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Aaron Judge & the Exclusive, Lucrative Club of Yankees Captains

The Yankees named Aaron Judge the 16th captain in team history on Wednesday, the first since Derek Jeter. He will be by far the highest-earning.

When Willie Randolph and Derek Jeter showed up at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, it was pretty obvious what was about to happen.

Aaron Judge‘s official re-introduction to the New York Yankees was the only official item on the schedule, but two former captains don’t show up for a press conference in December unless they’re about to add someone else to their group of legends. And that’s exactly what happened.

Holding the title of Yankees Captain is as exclusive as it gets. There hasn’t been one on the roster in eight years and only two others have held that title in the past 30. Without waxing poetic about the Yankee Way and making fans of the other 29 teams in baseball roll their eyes so hard they fall out of their head, being a Yankee captain is about more than on-field accomplishments.

Judge has plenty, of course. He’s the new American League home run king, holds the AL rookie home run record, and was named the 2022 AL MVP. Just as importantly in this context, he’s beloved by the fanbase, no stranger to a standing ovation at 161st Street and River Avenue. The Yankees installed the Judge’s Chambers in right field during his rookie season, with those seats graced by the likes of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

His influence in the clubhouse is also unquestioned. Judge stays out of trouble off the field and his teammates, somehow, never seemed bothered by the media circus surrounding his home run chase. In fact, they seemed to love it just as much as Judge himself.

There’s another side to this, of course. And that is that the Yankees are giving Judge a ton of money over the course of his nine-year deal. Here’s what the Yankees’ captaincy has looked like in the free agency era (1972-present):

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Modern Yankees Captains

Thurman Munson

Captain From: 1976-79

Salary data from the 1970s is difficult to find, so we don’t know how much Munson earned as a Yankee from his rookie year in 1969 to his untimely death a decade later. Reports say he averaged about $420,000 per year, which, in 2022 money, is around $2 million. More importantly for fans, Munson was the heartbeat of two World Series teams. It was more than the numbers he posted (which were, obviously, great). His legendary feud with Carlton Fisk re-ignited the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry — something that would have been impossible if his teammates didn’t consistently have his back. Munson also reportedly pushed then-owner George Steinbrenner to sign free agent Reggie Jackson. Steinbrenner did just that, and now Jackson’s number is retired in Monument Park as well.

Graig Nettles

Captain From: 1982-84

Nettles was Yankees captain for just two seasons, cut short by a feud with Steinbrenner and eventual trade to the San Diego Padres. He was a member of the ’77 and ’78 championship teams and led the team to the 1981 AL Pennant. His earnings, again not entirely known, seem pedestrian by today’s standards, but the pair of three-year, $385,000 deals he signed in New York were enough to make Steinbrenner say in 1982: “If he never plays another game for me, he has earned more than what I have paid him.” Not surprisingly, he was traded shortly after and his No. 9 was then retired in honor of…Roger Maris.

Willie Randolph and Ron Guidry

Captains From: 1986-88
Career Earnings (per Baseball Reference): Guidry, $7,235,373; Randolph, $7,933,000

The only co-captains in Yankees history remain involved in baseball to this day. Randolph was the second baseman on the 1977 and 78 championship teams and throughout the forgotten seasons in the 1980s. Guidry was there throughout as well, spending his entire career in pinstripes and basically rewriting the Yankees pitching record books.

Guidry made $7.2 million in his career as a Yankee, starting with his $37,000 rookie salary and peaking at $975,000 in 1986, according to Baseball Reference. Randolph made $7.9 million and was the first Yankee captain to make more than $1 million in a season (1986).

Former New York Yankees captains Willie Randolph and Derek Jeter pose for a photo with Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees (Dustin Satloff/Getty Images)
Don Mattingly

Captain From: 1991-95
Career Earnings: $29,970,000

The only Yankee captain in the modern era to not win a World Series, Mattingly was the bright spot during a rare dark period in Yankees history. Once their championship window closed in the 80s and before the 90s dynasty began, Mattingly was the guy that Yankees fans paid to see. And so the Yankees paid him. Handsomely. In 1987, a season in which the Yankees finished 4th in the AL East, Mattingly homered in eight consecutive games. He also hit six grand slams that year, both Major League records. In 1988, he became the first (eventual) Yankee captain to make $2 million in a season. Then $3 million in ’91. Then $4 million in ’94. His career ended in 1995 after finally playing for a playoff team, bringing the Bombers to the Division Series and setting the stage for the dynasty that started right after his retirement.

Derek Jeter

Captain From: 2003-14
Career Earnings: $265,159,364

It’s only fitting that Mattingly’s final season was Jeter’s first cup of coffee. The 1996 AL Rookie of the Year won a title in four of his first five seasons, won five in his career, and appeared in two more World Series. Captain Clutch, as they call him, officially earned the captaincy in 2003, but he played that role from day one.

At the time of the announcement, he was in the middle of a 10-year, $189 million contract that carried him through the 2011 season. That means there was never a doubt that Jeter would finish his career with the Yankees. By the time that deal expired, it was impossible to envision him wearing another uniform, and he never did. During Jeter’s 20-year career, the Yankees missed the playoffs just twice and never finished below .500. Now that his playing days are behind him, Jeter is starting to make his name in business, setting an example for former athletes across sports.

Aaron Judge

Captain From: 2022-present
Est. Career Earnings (via Spotrac): $396,115,671

2022 was Judge’s final year of team control, and as has been documented extensively, he bet on himself and won big. After turning down a reported seven-year, $213.5 million extension in Spring Training, Judge went out and had perhaps the best season in Yankees history, smashing 62 home runs along the way. After the season, he did his due diligence, entertaining offers from the Giants and Padres. Depending on who you ask, he may have even been on the verge of signing elsewhere, but ultimately, Judge wanted to stay a Yankee and the Yankees wanted to commit enough money to get it done. His new deal? Nine years and $360 million. Between that, a captaincy, and a 14-year World Series drought, Judge will be under the microscope next season. All indications are he’ll be just fine.

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About The Author
Russell Steinberg
Russell Steinberg
Russell Steinberg is an editor and writer at Boardroom. He came to the brand in 2021 with a decade of experience in sports journalism, primarily covering college basketball at SB Nation as a writer, reporter, and blog manager. In a previous life, he worked as a social media strategist and copywriter, handling accounts ranging from sports retail to luxury hotels and financial technology. Though he has mastered the subtweet, he kindly requests you @ him next time.