Like it or not, the New York Yankees have staked a claim to being the premier sports franchise in North America, and their hats and uniforms are among the most recognizable team outfits in the world. The 2009 baseball season concluded with the playing of the 109th World Series. The Yankees appeared in their 40th Series, and won their 27th title, both numbers lead the rest of pro baseball by far. Being the leader of the most successful pro team ensures your status as an outstanding person and player. The Yankees have had 13 captains through the years, and Yankeeography: The Captains Collection chronicles the lives of some of those players.
To be clear, this two-disc set of hour-long installments (produced by the Yankees Entertainment and Sports (YES) Network) covers the captains from the mid-1930s upwards, as there was obviously no video to cull from some of the other captains. But the series hardly feels incomplete; the seven-part series starts with Lou Gehrig, followed by Thurman Munson, Graig Nettles, Willie Randolph, Ron Guidry, Don Mattingly and current captain Derek Jeter.
Hosted by YES personality John Sterling, each episode delves into the lives and careers of the Yankees that have made a difference for their teammates and, in some cases, a larger dent in baseball. Gehrig was a Hall of Fame first baseman who played with Babe Ruth and helped form some of the best individual teams in baseball, much less the Yankees. While Baltimore's Cal Ripken surpassed Gehrig's record for consecutive games played, Gehrig still holds several baseball records and his play at the position staked a claim as the best to have ever played first base. He succumbed to ALS shortly before his 39th birthday, and the team was without a captain for almost four decades. Many players came and went during that time, including Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle.
Munson was the next to take the captaincy. Full of passion for life and the game he played, he won the League Rookie of the Year in 1970 and Most Valuable Player in 1976, and was on his way to a Hall of Fame career when he unfortunately died in 1979 at the age of 32 while attempting to land an airplane. Munson, a licensed pilot, flew from New York to Ohio frequently to see his wife and children, and died in the process. His loss was deep to the Yankee organization, to the point where his locker was never moved or replaced at Yankee Stadium until the new stadium opened in 2009.
Ironically, the person who held the locker next to Munson was Jeter. Jeter, who joined the team in 1995 and was named captain in 2003, has become the all-time team leader in hits (eclipsing Gehrig) and has been a consistent performer for the club since winning the Rookie of the Year award in 1996. Jeter came aboard as Mattingly was retiring. Mattingly excelled during several Yankee lean years, and still managed to finish with a career batting average of .307. I do not mean to gloss over the other captains, as they are no slouches either. Guidry won back-to-back World Series with the Yankees in 1977 and 1978, and was teammates and co-captains with Randolph, who won several more as bench coach of the Series-winning Yankee teams of the late '90s. Nettles was teammates with Guidry and Randolph, and held the title during the early '80s until his trade from the Yankees in 1983.
As you can gather, while this material is fascinating, the level of enlightenment you will gain from watching Yankeeography depends on how immersed you are in the franchise's history. Personally, I'm not a fan of the club, but I'm aware of the big names. And while watching their segments, there's not a lot of new ground that's being covered. In fact, the Gehrig, Munson and Jeter pieces are a little glossy. They lack some impartial edge to them and at times serve as bloated PR pieces. While I understand why YES (and their exclusive broadcast rights to Yankee material) may not want to cast a remotely furrowed brow to the Yankees, it helps to look at the players from all aspects with the hopes of finding an identifiable factor to the outsider.
Perhaps that's what Yankee fans want though. When we are talking about the greatest team in baseball, choosing a captain can be a tough process. You want someone that transcends normal boundaries and becomes a legend in Yankee history (baseball history is an added perk). For the Yankee captain, it ensures a place in a long and storied past that is handed down to generations. Fans around for the players can remember how a Gehrig or Munson played, and could possibly compare them to Jeter. In that regard, Yankeeography helps add fuel to the discussion, and if that is the desired effect, it's a good thing.
Both discs have full frame video that comes from what are presumably their broadcasts on the YES Network. The episodes pull dated interview footage, newsreels and game highlights from over several decades, and each appears to be transferred fine. Any video issue would be inherent with the broadcast material. There's not much to really talk about here.
Two-channel Dolby stereo for this material, and there's no complaints from me on this stuff either. No distortion or artifact issues in the soundtrack. The rear channels don't get any use and the front channel sound is capable enough. Like the video, this is strictly broadcast material replicated accurately without any additional concern.
There's some additional footage titled "Moments and Mystique" (42:33), and it covers a wider spectrum, focusing on things like Ruth's called shot homer against the Chicago Cubs in the World Series, Mantle's retirement ceremony and notable single-game achievements in Yankee history, including perfect games and no-hitters. It even dives into the rivalry between the Yankees and Boston Red Sox, throwing in highlights along the way. It's slightly out of place with the broadcast material, but complimentary for the Yankee fan who has a completist urge.
Yankeeography: The Captains Collection is an entertaining, if not slightly superficial look at the team captains from pro sports' great teams through the years. If you enjoy all things Yankee and have never immersed yourself in the franchise, this is a good start for you. Even if you're a die-hard Yankees fan, you may learn some things about your heroes you might not have known. If you've got YES on your cable/satellite network, I'd probably wait for it to reair there before spending money on this though.