Chicago and Cubs both begin with the third letter of the alphabet, so it might not seem particularly noteworthy that several Cubbies have a C on their sleeves this year. But Uni Watch is intrigued, because this C stands for “Captain”—Cubs skipper Don Baylor conferred the designation on Mark Grace, Sammy Sosa, Kevin Tapani, and Rick Aguilera at the season’s outset. It’s an odd situation, since a team rarely has four captains at once, especially when one of them only joined the team last May (Aguilera), another finished the previous season on a nine-game losing streak (Tapani), and another is the subject of trade rumors (Sosa).
Baylor’s unconventional approach underscores the fact that the position of baseball captain is among the least-defined aspects of the game. Some teams have ’em, others don’t, and they have no official duties other than some vague notion of “leadership” (although one printed source says a captain’s primary job in the late 1800s was “to ensure that at least some of the players remained sober”).
Moreover, a captaincy doesn’t necessarily mean a captain’s C: Some captains, like the Cubbie quartet and Cincinnati’s Barry Larkin, wear the designatory letter; others, like Ron Santo (the last Cub captain, back in the early ’70s), have done without any uniform imprimatur. Even the placement of the C is a rather freestyle affair—Larkin’s appears on the front of his jersey, while the Cubs wear theirs on the right sleeve of their home and road unis and on the left sleeve of their blue alternate jerseys. None of which compares to Bob Ferguson of the 1876 Hartford Dark Blues, who wore a special white belt imprinted with the words “I AM CAPTAIN.” Uni Watch is sorely pained to report that no photos of this accessory appear to exist.
The Cubs notwithstanding, baseball captains appear to be an endangered species, since today’s players rarely stay with a team long enough to amass the respect and stature traditionally associated with the role. In fact, Larkin and the Chicago foursome are the game’s only current captains, although the Yanks’ Derek Jeter is widely thought to be captain-in-waiting. If he’s eventually anointed, he’ll presumably wear the mantle without any visible sign of it, since Yankee captains—most recently Don Mattingly from 1991 through 1995—have traditionally gone C-less.