Tuesday, August 2, 2011
A TRIBUTE TO THE CAPTAIN
It was 32 years ago today that I heard the news that Thurman Munson had died. I remember that I just got home from my summer job and I was in my grandmother's house. I turned on the television (no ESPN or 24 hour news services) and when the channel 4 news came on, the top story was that Thurman Munson had died in a plane crash. I was crushed, he was my favorite Yankee at the time. He was the reason that I wanted to catch in baseball. I did not know how the Yankees were going to continue without him. Believe me, it took awhile for the Yankees to right their ship after his passing. They didn't win another World Series until 1996.
Right now I am reading Munson's biography that Marty Appel had wrote in 2009. It is very interesting and an amazing insight into this baseball player who was very hard to understand.
Munson was the consumate Yankee. He played only for the Yankee organization. He was named Rookie of the Year in 1970 and was named American League MVP in 1976. He is the only Yankee to ever do that. At the start of the 76 season, Munson was named Captain of the New York Yankees. He was the first Captain since Lou Gehrig.
He won 3 Gold Glove awards in his career and was an outstanding defensive catcher. During the 1977 season the Dodgers stole 114 bases and when they faced the Yankees in the 77 Series, Munson threw out 4 of 6 runners. He batted .320 in that series but was overshadowed by the 3 consecutive homers by Reggie Jackson.
During the 1976 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds, which the Yankees lost 4 games to none, Munson batted .529. This accomplishment lead Sparky Anderson to classlessly state, "Munson is an outstanding ballplayer and he would hit .300 in the National League, but you don't ever compare anybody to Johnny Bench. Don't never embarass nobody by comparing them to Johnny Bench." This visibly hurt Munson especially after an outstanding performance in a losing effort.
Munson was taking flying lessons so he could be home with his family more often. On August 2, 1979, he was practicing take-offs and landings. During these exercises he lost control of the plane and crashed. He perished in the burning plane.
The day after the crash, the Yankees began a four game homestand against the Orioles. The team paid tribute to their deceased Captain in a pre-game ceremony with all of the defensive players standing in their positions, except for the catcher's box, which remained empty. Cardinal Cooke said a prayer that was followed by a moment of silence and America the Beautiful was song by Robert Merrill. The fans then burst into an eight minute standing ovation. The man who would replace Munson on that night, Jerry Narron, stayed in the dugout and did not enter the field until Bob Sheppard (The Voice of God) said, "And now it is time to play baseball. Thank you ladies and gentleman for your co-operation."
I remember watching this and seeing Reggie Jackson standing in right field and crying like a baby. Bobby Murcer was sobbing. It was heart wrenching.
Munson's number 15 has been retired, he has a monument in Monument Park and his locker remains empty to this day. Derek Jeter has the locker next to the empty locker. There is a street in the Bronx named after him, Thurman Munson Way and a school was built on that street called, Henry Lou Gehrig Junior High School.
Thurman Munson (June 7, 1947-August 2, 1979)