While the St. Louis Cardinals haven’t named an official team captain since 1965, there are leaders across the roster, nonetheless. Who’s driving the bus in 2016?
Captains in Major League Baseball are rare, at least in the traditional sense of that title. After all, leadership on a baseball club can be a tricky thing. In the results-driven business, guys who lead by example can be just as, if not more effective team leaders than traditional “rah-rah” type guys.
Sure, you could name the best player on your team as Captain. But, that alone doesn’t make that guy a good leader for your team.
The only Captain in the game today is David Wright of the Mets. He doesn’t wear a capital “C” on his jersey, he doesn’t lead his team onto the field with a inspiration-charged speech every night.
“The Captain” Derek Jeter is probably the most famous “officially” named Captain in the history of the game. Jeter served as Yankees Captain from 2003 through 2014. He was the undisputed leader of those Yankee squads, seeming to fill some sort of role between being a coach and player.
Captain is the ultimate expression of respect in Major League Baseball. Both Jeter and Wright are so well-respected that their leadership qualities are understood and felt, without the need to be broadcast or promoted.
So who’s that man for the St. Louis Cardinals?
Immediately, there are three candidates that come to mind. The obvious finalists are Matt Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina. Let’s look at a case for Captainship for each Cardinal leader, then come to a decision for who our 2016 Cardinal Captain will be.
I think that Carpenter made his first real case for Captainship with that eight-pitch, bases clearing double off of Clayton Kershaw in Game One of the 2014 NLDS. Carpenter went on to have a huge Postseason, and he led the Cardinal offense for the majority of 2015.
Carpenter is an absolute gamer. His presence at the top of the St. Louis lineup sets the tone for the rest of the team.
He isn’t the biggest guy on the team, nor is he the fastest. He doesn’t have the strongest arm at third base, and his range is average by Major League standards.
All he does is play the game hard, he plays the game smart, and he plays the game the right way. He is a model for every young Cardinal in the organization, or every young aspiring baseball player, at that. It could be his willingness to work a 10-pitch walk or his tenacity and awareness in always looking for an extra base to take.
I shudder when I think about how things might have gone the last few seasons without Carpenter. He means more to this team than any statistic could ever tell you. He’s the ultimate glue guy, the engine that makes the Cardinal machine run.
Speaking of shuddering, the thought of losing Yadi for another extended period of time sends me into mini bouts of terror. We’ve missed him dearly in the past two postseasons, and we missed him during his mid-season DL stints just the same.
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I’m not sure if I have the imagination needed to try and picture what the Cardinal pitching staff might have performed like in the past decade without Yadi. I’ll just go out on a limb and say that they wouldn’t have been as good.
As a hold over from the 2006 World Series squad, Yadi made his Captain case some time ago. Other than Waino, Yadi is the only man on the Cardinal roster with two rings, and he is as close to an emotional leader as the club has.
When the Brandon Phillips drama went down a couple of years ago, Yadi didn’t drag his team down in that ugly situation, he lifted them up. Any time Yadi gets fired up, the rest of the team responds.
What says Captain more than that?
If baseball were like football and you named offensive and defensive (pitching) Captains, Waino would be the leader of the pitchers with no questions asked. That’s already the case, he just doesn’t have an official title to go with it all.
As mentioned, Waino is a two-ring holdover from that 2006 squad. He closed out the last game of that series in his rookie year, and quickly took lead of the Cardinal pitching staff that next season.
While there is no way of proving it, I believe that Waino’s presence in the clubhouse last year was a big factor in getting the Cardinals to 100 wins. He walked around that dugout like a bench coach, and might as well have been one.
That’s how much respect Waino has in that clubhouse. We know what he is capable of on the mound. His presence, mannerisms and genuine love for the St. Louis Cardinals are what make him prime Captain material.
And your Captain is…
That was a tough pick. I gave Yadi and Waino an edge over Carpenter, simply because they’ve been with the club much longer and they have the two rings to boot.
After that, it was difficult to differentiate between Molina and Wainwright. On one hand, Yadi deserves credit above Wainwright because he impacts the game directly more often than every fifth day, and some of Wainwright’s success has to be attributed to Yadi’s plan of attack behind the plate.
But, I have to give the edge to Waino. Again, this is so close, but Waino just has that “Captain feel” about him. Guys elevate their game behind him when he’s on the mound, and his attitude in the dugout on his off days keeps guys relaxed but focused.
This really could have gone either way, but naming co-Captains just isn’t acceptable, Cardinal Nation. As always, give us your take on this very important matter in the comments, or let me hear about it on twitter!