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Six degrees of Yankee captaincy

Through six steps of mutual teammates, we can trace Aaron Judge all the way back to the first ever person named Yankees’ captain.

Aaron Judge Press Conference Photo by New York Yankees/Getty Images

When Aaron Judge was named Yankees captain, he joined a long list of luminaries, and maybe a couple notable non-luminaries, to have held the position. While the names that stand out on the list of captains are the bonafide franchise legends — Lou Gehrig, Don Mattingly, Derek Jeter, plenty more — the list isn’t only them.

There have been captains dating all the way back to the origin of the Yankees’ franchise. The first ever one was Clark Griffith, a pitcher and a player/manager for the then-Highlanders from 1903-1908, the first six seasons in team history. After leaving the Highlanders, he would go on to manage the Reds and Senators, and even ended up owning Washington. Today, the Senators are the Twins, having been moved there by Griffith’s son Calvin, who claimed some, uh, gross reasons being part of the decision to go to Minnesota.

However before all that, Griffith was the Yankees’ captain as they began life as the Highlanders, with no one knowing just how preeminent the franchise would become. With Judge now next in the pantheon of Yankees captains, let’s dig back through history and see how quickly we can connect him back to Griffith. Using Baseball Reference’s fun Oracle of Baseball tool, we use common teammates to bridge the over 100-year gap and connect the players in six steps.

As mentioned, Griffith continued his managerial career after leaving the Yankees/Highlanders, but he also made more pitching appearances after that as well. The final year he appeared on the mound came in 1914, when he was nearly 45 years old. His final ever game on the field came on October 7th, when he pitched the final inning of the final game of the regular season. Backing him up in center field that day was Howie Shanks.

Shanks had a 14-year career after overcoming tuberculosis and was known as a good fielding outfielder, but wasn’t an especially great hitter. He spent most of his career in Washington, but did play two years with the Red Sox and one with the Yankees at the very end of his career. While in Boston, he was teammates for one season in 1924 with a future Hall of Famer in 19-year-old Red Ruffing.

After struggling to start his career in Boston, Ruffing famously found himself and became a great pitcher and an ace for the Yankees after a 1930 trade that brought him to the Bronx. He would go on to spend 15 seasons in pinstripes, wrapping up his time there in 1946. As his Yankee career was finishing, another notable one was just set to begin, as 1946 featured the MLB debut of a certain Yogi Berra.

I probably don’t have to give much of an introduction to Berra, who pretty much did it all in the Bronx. He won three MVPs, was an 18-time All-Star, and was part of a record 10 World Series champion teams. However annoying, he actually doesn’t go down as a one-team player, as Berra made a handful of appearances for the 1965 Mets, while he was on their coaching staff under former Yankee boss Casey Stengel. That season would be the same one that saw the debut of pitcher Tug McGraw.

A two-time World Series champion, McGraw won a ring each with the Mets and Phillies and is credited with coining the “Ya Gotta Believe” slogan for the ‘73 Mets. He went on to have an impressively long (for a reliever) 19-year career, where he crossed paths with another guy who played for a while: Julio Franco.

Franco played parts of 23 years in the majors, with his last game coming in 2007, after his 49th birthday, a long time after his 1982 debut while on the Phillies with McGraw. Franco didn’t start his final ‘07 season in Atlanta, but it’s where he ended it, which allowed him to crossover with the next entry on the list. Also playing for the Braves in 2007 was a up and coming young catcher named Brian McCann.

The 2007 season ended up being the second of seven All-Star teams made by McCann while he was a member of the Braves, this one come when he was just 23 years old. It was that impressive run that got him a deal with the Yankees. While his run in New York didn’t go quite as well as we would’ve hoped, he was a solid player in pinstripes for a couple seasons, the last of which ended up being in 2016. He ended up getting traded after that year, but not before spending a couple months as a teammate of a rookie named Aaron Judge.

If we’re lucky, in years after Judge’s career ends and his No. 99 gets retired, we’ll be able to connect Judge to some other, future star who will go down in Yankees’ history.