Bradford: Maybe we should start rethinking this whole captain thing


Of all the things Ron Roenicke has to worry about these days, the topic probably wasn’t top of mind..

Why don’t baseball teams have captains anymore?

“It’s an interesting question,” the Red Sox manager said in conclusion after the subject was broached prior to Tuesday’s doubleheader.

Yes. Yes it is.

In these days of rethinking how everything is done, perhaps the captain construct is something that should be put on the list.

It’s a conversation that was surfaced in recent days after the Patriots named their eight captains. That’s right, EIGHT. Cam Newton was one. Julian Edelman wasn’t. Let the half-hearted debates begin.

But what we should truly take out of the immersion of captain talk into our lives isn’t who got the ‘C’ and who didn’t. It should be about whether or not it’s worth giving anybody the title in any of these sports.

Perhaps this is the one thing Major League Baseball is ahead of the curve on. Once David Wright retired, the game was left without any captains, as it should be. The ‘C’ on Jason Varitek’s chest was symbolic, but nobody truly believed that he was the be-all, end-all voice in those clubhouses. One of them? Sure. But it’s simply not how the sport works.

Hence, the unofficial elimination of the once coveted title.

“I’ve never been around captains. I know Varitek. I know Yankees with Thurman (Munson). But other than that I haven’t been around other teams that had captains,” Roenicke said. “There were great players on teams and they weren’t captains. Mike Schmidt with Phillies. The great players I was with with the Dodgers. But I think there are individual leaders that you need and I think because there are different aspects of this game — there are starting pitchers, there’s your bullpen and then there’s your everyday position players. And with those positional players a lot of times you have a leader in that spot, but he doesn’t usually lead your starting staff and he doesn’t usually doesn’t lead your bullpen. Maybe that’s why it’s hard to have captains in baseball. I don’t know. It’s an interesting question.”

But what about the other sports that are digging in?

It’s starting to seem silly.

Give Brad Stevens credit. He has actually taken a few minutes to rethink this exact topic, coming to the conclusion that it is indeed … well, silly.

“I spent a lot of time studying this at Butler,” Stevens told “I’d say out of the 12 years that I’ve been a head coach we’ve rarely had them (captains). And the reason being is that you want to empower everyone to add leadership within their own authentic way.”

He added, “I’ve always found that in a team of 15 people, it’s a little different than in a team of 40 or 50 people. If I name two or three people captains, inevitably you’re disempowering more than you’re empowering. And so, one of the things we try to do is say everybody’s a catalyst in their own way. We look at it more as catalysts then captains.”

In sports like basketball -- and football -- too many times teams fall in the trap of identifying their most talented players as captains. When Paul Pierce was given the title in 2000 with Antoine Walker he wasn't ready for the responsibility. And when Stevens' named his one-and-only captain while with the Celtics, giving the role to Rajon Rondo, it was the epitome of square peg, round hole.

In past times Kyrie Irving would have been captain last season. In retrospect, do you think that would have been a good idea? On this year's team Kemba Walker is most likely the one who deserves such a label, but by not giving him it has allowed for more ownership from the likes of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum.

That brings us to football.

Eight captains seems excessive, although it does allow for a fair amount of intimidation come coin-flip time. But let's be honest: The idea behind it -- having players serve as spokesmen for their respective position groups -- doesn't really warrant a title for each individual. In the NFL the head coach is the captain. End of story.

And does anyone think Edelman won't be more of a locker room presence than a good chunk of those wearing the 'C' on their jerseys? Of course not. And because his voice is just as powerful and impactful even without the title, that immediately devalues the captain role.

It's organizational eyewash.

Hockey? OK. That tradition is simply not going anywhere. And carrying the role of the on-ice go-between with referees serves somewhat of a purpose. So congratulations NHL, I am allowing you to keep your captains.

But let's start re-imagining leadership while finally not worrying about who is getting the 'C' on their varsity jacket.

A real leader would want it that way.