Former New York Yankees captains on what’s in store for Aaron Judge

AARON JUDGE BEGINS 2023 as the 16th captain in the turbulent history of the New York Yankees.

He joins a roster that includes icons such as Babe Ruth (who only served five days but… it counts), Lou Gehrig, Thurman Munson, Don Mattingly and most recently Derek Jeter. He’s the face of one of North America’s premier sports franchises, a celebrity in one of the world’s greatest cities. One day his plaque will probably be in Monument Park for his great-great-grandchildren to see.

There are also the responsibilities. Like setting the tone for the team. representation of the community. Hearing complaints about airplane food.


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Just ask Ron Guidry, a Yankees captain from 1986 to 1989. The former Cy Young Award winner told ESPN he once had to walk into the office of the infamous — and intimidating — George Steinbrenner in full uniform to meet with to speak to his owner, not about pennant racing or the intricacies of pitching, but about the sorry state of the team’s on-board catering.

For the captain of the Yankees, this is part of the day-to-day business.

Those duties now fall on Judge’s shoulders, from what we see him do on the pitch every day to what he never has to do.

“We had [player] Meetings because the food on the flights wasn’t good,” Guidry recalled. “Who are you going to complain to? Players don’t want to touch the pot with the manager or owner. They come to you, and you, as the captain, make a note and need to speak to someone. You are a speaker.”

Guidry said he reached out to manager Billy Martin first, but he could barely say a word before Martin, a legendary figure in his own right, stopped him.

“Not my department,” Martin announced. “Go talk to the man upstairs.”

So Guidry called the Yankees’ boardroom and asked the operator if Steinbrenner was there. When she gave him the green light, Guidry ran upstairs – still in his pinstripes.

“What’s your problem now?” Steinbrenner asked.

I I have no problem with you,” Guidry replied.your team does.”

Steinbrenner listened as Guidry channeled his inner Jerry Seinfeld and broke the news that the food on the team’s flights was not up to par. Players had stopped eating it, and when they arrived at their destination cities late at night, all the restaurants were usually closed.

“I’ll take care of it,” Steinbrenner told him.

When the Yankees next took to the streets, the team had switched airlines. Your first meal with the new airline? Chateaubriand steak and lobster tail.

IF THE YANKEES Appointed Judge Captain late last month after the slugger signed a nine-year, $360 million deal to remain in the Bronx, the team brought out all the pomp and circumstance for the occasion. Jeter – who last year produced an ESPN documentary series called The Captain, based on his career – and Willie Randolph – Guidry’s co-captain from 1986 to 1988 – attended the press conference to help with the handover.

Jeter and Randolph know the job comes with increasing scrutiny from Yankees fans. But the managerial title also brings with it a lot of behind-the-scenes responsibilities — and, Guidry learned, a little more leverage with bosses.

I I have no problem with you. your team does.”

Former Captain Ron Guidry filing a complaint about airplane food with then-Yankees owner George Steinbrenner

“There’s a certain pride and pride in knowing that ‘Hey, I’m the captain of the New York Yankees,'” Randolph said. “In your preparation in spring training, in the offseason, you feel a responsibility not only to think about yourself, your teammates, how you can motivate them to become champions. It’s a 24/7 mentality that you have to carry even if the season is over.”

It’s a role Judge has grown into over the years, particularly over the course of his historic 2022 season. The lead transition began during his historic rookie season in 2017 — when he hit a rookie record with 52 home runs — as he experienced Handed over control of the clubhouse Spotify account to teammates. For seven seasons into his career, Judge remains the Yankees’ unofficial DJ before and after games.

When Judge chased and eventually surpassed Roger Maris’ single-season home run record in the American League last year, his influence extended beyond his playlist. His consistent preparation before the game inspired his teammates. Through the ups and downs of the season, they looked to Judge for advice—like him, never too high, never too low. At the end of the season, teammates named him the team’s captain, even though Judge did not yet officially hold the title. However, when Hal Steinbrenner offered it to him in December, he was stunned.

Said Richter: “I couldn’t find the words.”

Guidry and Randolph had also become the first choice for clubhouse captains before Hal’s father officially anointed them. Both players had spent nearly a decade on the team and were the team’s longest-serving players when they got the call.

“It’s a great honor to solidify it,” Randolph said, “but you grow into your leadership role. Everyone is different, you can’t shape how someone did it. You have to do it the way you feel comfortable doing it.” You have to be yourself. People can smell if you’re not authentic.”

For Jeter, Judge’s authenticity is a given.

“It’s not like you have to flip a switch and be someone else because you’ve been given that title,” Jeter said. “I would assume he was acting like a captain up until that point, which is why they made him captain.”

The Yankees captaincy tradition dates back to future Hall of Famer Clark Griffith, who held the title from 1903 to 1905, although the role remained vacant for almost 40 years following Gehrig’s early retirement in 1939 due to ALS. Guidry learned what captaincy meant by watching Munson, the first player to take the mantle after Gehrig. Munson served as the Yankees’ captain from 1976 to 1979, until a plane crash took his life. Guidry debuted for the Yankees in 1975 and spent the first four years of his career around the catcher.

“He didn’t have to tell you how to be a leader,” Guidry said. “If you’re on a team and you have a captain, just watch him fulfill the task of being a captain. If he speaks what he says, if he chooses the time, does he leave you alone, does he take you on the side? Does he call a team meeting or does he leave the team alone?”

During a winning streak, Guidry recalls the players in the Yankees’ clubhouse getting excited, but Munson immediately threw water on the fire – telling the group not to get too “slap happy.”

“What are you going to say when you go on a five-game losing streak?” Munson told the clubhouse.

Guidry said: “It would bring us back to our senses. It took 15 seconds, but those 15 seconds carried a lot of weight.”

According to Guidry, Munson had his biggest impact in 1978, when the Yankees finished 14 games behind the Boston Red Sox for first place on the All-Star break. New York struggled with injuries and didn’t have many of their best players on the field early in the season.

“He kept us all together,” Guidry said. “We knew we were good but what was going on didn’t work for us. Everything seemed against us. But suddenly you keep playing and keep pushing and then suddenly you tear down five, six, seven games in a row.”

The Yankees would eventually win the World Series after climbing all the way back to the division and then beating Boston in the AL East tiebreaker game on a home run by Bucky Dent.

“He told us to be patient and it all came true,” Guidry said. “He always timed it right to bring it out. He made you feel like you would win. So when I became captain with Willie, I knew what I had to do.”

Guidry and Randolph said that one of their most important roles is to be a sounding board. That meant listening to teammates express their frustrations on the pitch, and sometimes acting as a go-between between players and management.

But the responsibilities extend beyond the stadium, as Yankees fans look to the captain as a role model in the community. Guidry said he was always careful about where he was going because he didn’t want to get bad press for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He avoided downtown Manhattan to avoid being hounded by fans, but when he encountered them, he tried to keep negative thoughts to himself.

“Sometimes you have to bite your tongue because people get really upset when the team isn’t doing well,” Guidry said. “You have something to say and what you are saying is something you don’t want to hear. You can’t argue with them because if someone takes a picture and it comes out, that’s what you preached clubhouse, you’re a hypocrite doing the opposite.”

Randolph was always thinking about how he behaved – from his body language on the field and on the street to his choice of words.

“You have to embody all the clichés,” Randolph said. “Take things day by day, keep calm. But it has to be natural.”

JUDGES HE KNOWS has a lot to live for.

“I look back at the list of Thurman Munson, Lou Gehrig, Ron Guidry, Willie Randolph, Derek Jeter, Don Mattingly,” Judge said. “That’s a pretty good list.”

Judge is often compared to Jeter for his interactions with the media, rarely making a quote that might mislead anyone or create controversy. In addition, Jeter sees similarities between himself and his successor.

“In terms of mindset and the most important thing about winning, he has the same mindset.”

Jeter said he wasn’t on the team enough to make further comparisons. Instead, the Hall of Famer shortstop pointed to the Yankees’ current clubhouse to prove the judge can get the job done.

“Talk to his teammates, talk to his coaches, talk to his manager,” Jeter said. “I mean, [manager Aaron Boone] spoke for what? Thirty-five minutes [at the press conference]? You listen to everyone talking about him and that tells you everything you need to know.”

Jeter made it his mission to remind Judge that the title isn’t just an ego boost. It’s a responsibility.

“Yankee fans love history and tradition,” Jeter said. “It’s not a title to be thrown around too lightly.”

The judge takes the newfound weight on his shoulders seriously.

“Not just great players, but great ambassadors of football and great ambassadors of the New York Yankees,” Judge said. “It’s an amazing honor that I don’t take lightly.”

And if he needs advice, like how to handle complaints about airplane food?

“I’m here,” Guidry said. “Ask me.”

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