Sunday, December 28, 2014


When the Yankees lost Derek Jeter, they lost more than just one of baseball’s all-time greats at shortstop.  Rather, they lost their silent backbone – their quiet, lead-by-example, always professional leader. 

Jeter was the guy who both the young newcomers, as well as the grizzled veterans would take their lead from; on the field and off it.  It would be Jeter that might point out, to no one in general, that there was still plenty of time for some magic to happen, and sure enough, it would.  Or it was Jeter who, after a quick glance at the third baseman, could lay the perfect bunt down the line.  In front of his locker, Jeter always said the right things after a game.  He never publicly berated a teammate, or complained about a manager’s decision.  Jeter always understood who his audience was and how much weight his words carried.
So, who now assumes the role as “leader” on this club?  Let’s face it; no one will completely fill the shoes Derek Jeter left behind.  To even attempt to step into a leadership role with the team, the player has to be durable, professional, and able to anticipate every possible situation – at the plate, in the field and in front of a microphone – not to mention that they have to be among the best at their position.  Most of all, they have to understand what it means to be a Yankee.  They have to embrace the history of the team, and be willing to add to it.  “Jeets” mastered every one of those qualifications.

Who then is “the one”?  Mark Teixeira?  Well, he is professional and certainly a great fielder with decent power.  He’s a seasoned veteran that’s been with the Bombers long enough to fully understand what it means to be a Yankee, and he’s very good with the media.  Tex’s problem is that he can’t stay healthy.  The last time he played a full season was 2011.  We need someone who leads by example ON and off the field.  Teixeira is rarely on the field anymore.

Brett Gardner definitely makes a strong case to be the team’s next leader.  He’s home-grown, so “Gardy” understands what it means to be a Yankee.  Since 2008 he’s been able to learn from guys like Jorge Posada, Andy Pettite, Mariano Rivera, and of course Jeter.  In the field, there might not be a better left-fielder in the American League.  He covers a lot of ground and has a decent arm.  On the base paths, the left-handed hitter is a nuisance to opposing pitchers and has stolen 45 bags in 58 attempts over the past two seasons.  His speed may be his greatest asset. 

He’s a hard-worker and always the consummate professional.    Only, Gardner isn’t my choice to take over the leadership reins.  There’s just a feeling that he’s not “the guy” to me.  Maybe it’s the fact that his on-base percentage has dropped consistently since 2010.  How can he utilize his greatest asset if he isn’t on base?  Perhaps it’s the feel that he’s always just one misstep from being taken out of the lineup?  Everyone is expendable, but it seems that the Yankees don’t give Gardner the respect he deserves, and maybe that’s why he can’t be my choice for next team leader. 

Instead, I’m going to go a little unconventional.  No, I’m not choosing ARod!  My choice for team leader is one of the newer Yankees.  Brought on board prior to last season, this veteran was placed into a key starting role and actually had one of his worst seasons at the plate.  Yet, even with his “stumble” in 2014, he still ranked among the most productive at his position.  He has above-average talent at one of the “busiest” spots on the diamond, and has the responsibility of managing the infield during a game.  If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m alluding to catcher Brian McCann.  

During last year’s campaign, McCann hit just .232 – the lowest average of his career.  Yet among catchers, his 75 RBI ranked third in MLB, and his 23 home runs ranked second.  Behind the plate he is widely regarded as one of the best at framing pitches, and it is no coincidence that the Yankees starting staff – in spite of its numerous injuries – actually was the strength of the team in 2014. 

The backstop understands what it means to be a Yankee.  At his introduction to the media last year, he said “What it means to be a part of this organization, it means a lot, especially as a catcher, all the tradition.  I hope to fall in line with all the great catchers that have been here. I hope to help this organization win multiple championships.”

McCann’s style of play is what makes him my choice for next team leader.  He reminds me of my favorite Yankee – Thurman Munson.  On the baseball field, he shows grit and poise.  He’s not afraid of blocking a ball or taking a collision at the plate – bruises are more trophies than anything else.  McCann has shown in the past that he’ll stand up for his teammates and more than anyone, would be the guy I’d want in the foxhole with me when things got crazy. 
Yes, he had a horrible first season in terms of batting average (what Yankee DIDN’T have a bad year at the plate?), but his career average is .272 and history says he’ll bounce back.  He’s had seven consecutive seasons with 20 or more home runs, and there’s no reason that shouldn’t continue.  Given a fairly new, young staff in 2015 (on Opening Day, at least three of the starters will be younger than 30), it is imperative that the Yankees have an experienced veteran calling the shots behind the plate.  McCann has shown that he brings the best out of a pitching staff.  I think he’ll step up his game and deftly navigate our rotation to success.
McCann mentioned the line of great catchers that the Yankees have had.  Names like Dickey, Berra, Howard, Munson and Posada have all set themselves apart from their peers behind the plate. In 2015, I believe Brian McCann will make a step towards adding his name to that list.  In doing so, he’ll establish himself as the leader of the team.


--Steve Skinner, BYB Senior Writer
Twitter: @oswegos1


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