David Ortiz Is Proof That Red Sox Don’t Need a Captain and Baseball’s ‘C’ Is Unnecessary


David Ortiz Is Proof That Red Sox Don't Need a Captain and Baseball's 'C' Is Unnecessary"What's in a name? That which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet."

That's what Juliet wanted to know, but here's what I want to know: What's in a title? As in the title "Captain of the Boston Red Sox?"

David Ortiz may have been proving all along that baseball doesn't need captains. To have a captain on your baseball team is nice — not necessary. Think about it: There are no meetings with officials, no coin toss and no boats to be steered. So what's the deal?

While the red 'C' looked sharp on Jason Varitek's left shoulder for seven years, what exactly did it mean to the men in that clubhouse? To his teammates, coaches and training staff? To the officials, opponents and league office? Maybe he got the best seat on the bus? I'm not downplaying what he brought to the this team and this city, but the franchise seemed to do pretty well without the red letter, too. In fact, when Tek was named captain, only he, Derek Jeter and Paul Konerko were other MLB captains. The rest of the the league seemed to manage getting through 162 games that season just fine without one.

The Sox have won one World Series title with Tek as captain, but they also won a World Series title in 2004 after taking shots of Jack Daniel's before playoff games. Does that mean they should be ripping shots before each game? No.

There have been notable captains in Red Sox history. Jim Rice (1985-89) came before Tek and Carl Yastrzemski ('66, 1969-83) was before him. Before Yaz, Jimmy Foxx served as captain from 1940-42 but that was after a 16-year hiatus. From 1908-1923, the team dished out the captaincy role like they were Baby Ruths, having 12 different captains in that span. It's pretty clear that having a baseball captain may have been important back during a time when women couldn't vote. 'Nuff said.

Varitek was a good captain because he was a natural leader — but what catcher isn't? Whether it's blocking 90-mph splitters and calling games for millionaires 150 times a year or scooping out poorly placed fast-pitch softballs on M St. in Southie, the catcher is always looked upon as one of the team's most trusted and most appreciated members. Tek had a way with the media, was terrific in the community and brought success to Yawkey Way. And, as far as any outsider is concerned, he took charge inside the clubhouse. He was strong, tough, wore eyeblack and had a sweet nickname. The Nation loved him and it was almost too perfect of a scenario that not naming him captain would have been a sin.

That was then.

A few weeks ago, Ortiz held a captain-less team meeting. Big Papi, who also voluntarily spoke up about last season's collapse at the team's organizational meeting in February, wanted to let his teammates know he was upset. Upset with how the team was playing and how players were acting. Reports say hitters were asking pitchers to "step it up" and that things "got heated" — and it had nothing to do with Papi's mango salsa.

On Monday night, he erupted when asked about the closed-doors meeting that ignited a five-game wining streak, according to an ESPN.com blog.

"I was reading an article [that] talked about the leaders people call 'leaders' in this town," he said. "Basically, it seems like no matter what you do, it's not good enough. And you can only call leaders the guys who are out diving for balls on the field or calling pitches behind the plate?"

He's right. While Papi's uniform isn't as dirty as the others', and while he doesn't make himself available to the media every night or play two-way baseball on a regular basis, why has he never been mentioned as a possible captain? He's the longest-tenured member of the team and brings a mile-wide smile to the ballpark and community more than anyone in the bigs. And that's before getting into what he does on the field.

But for the same reason why he should be captain, he shouldn't be. Why? Because there are so many people that have tremendous leadership qualities, why anoint one person to be the locker room leader?

Dustin Pedroia is often pegged as the team's next captain because he's lovable by fans, he plays his ass off, he deals with the media and is a respectable player based on his on-field and off-field efforts. Sure, if there had to be a captain, he'd get my vote, but what would he do differently if he were given the 'C?' What would anyone do differently if he was given the 'C?'

By not having one official captain, you are challenging the entire group of individuals to step up and take a leadership role. Whether you're a rookie, veteran, catcher or DH, you're as important and as part of this team as the next guy. So why not offer players the freedom to step up and have their voice heard or to have the reserve to snap at a slacking veteran who isn't doing all he can to put some wins in the standings? Sure, Papi held the team meeting because he's an established veteran, but what if Jarrod Saltalamacchia called for one? What if Mike Aviles did? Chances are, it would help more than it would hurt, so why not ask everyone to "Captain up?"

Leaders emerge in all sorts of situations, group settings and environments and different personalities handle different situations in ways that can only be found if and when an open challenge is offered. It's nice to reward a guy with a fancy title, but it's nicer to see an abundance of players step up, take charge and lead when needed.

Who cares about who will be the next team captain, let's just get the answer to why the team even needs one.

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