I still miss New York Yankees catching great Thurman Munson.
I was reminded of him the other day with the 20-year “anniversary” of the announcement by Magic Johnson that he had/has the HIV virus. Their stories aren’t all that similar except I remember exactly where I was when I heard about Magic and that Munson had died while attempting to land his plane at Akron Canton Airport on August 2, 1979.
One doesn’t have to exaggerate the impact Munson had on the Yankees in his superb 11 seasons in the Bronx including: Rookie of the Year honors, three Gold Gloves, seven-time All Star, one AL MVP and two championships. As good as he was in the regular season, Munson was even better in the playoffs, hitting .357 overall and .373 in the World Series.
Even if Munson were a light-hitting catcher, which he certainly wasn’t, chances are you’d want him as your starting backstop. He was old school tough and threw out nearly 45 percent of the runners who tried to steal on him, good for 11th best all-time.
What made Munson a great captain, and one of the few in the team’s storied history, is how he led by example. He probably wasn’t crazy about some of the nonsense going on around him between George Steinbrenner, Billy Martin and Reggie Jackson but he mostly stayed out of it and remained professional.
And oh what a pro he was, as John Sterling might say. Sparky Anderson may have appreciated his own catcher, the great Johnny Bench, a bit more but he was pushing it when he proclaimed: “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 embarrass nobody by comparing them to Johnny Bench.”
Sorry Sparky, but Yanks fans are just as happy they had Munson to enjoy except when they were robbed of his latter years along with his family. As it said on Munson’s plaque in Monument Park. Our captain and leader has not left us, today, tomorrow, this year, next … Our endeavors will reflect our love and admiration for him.