It will be 35 years this summer since Thurman Munson last donned the Yankees pinstripes. For one senior member of the Yankees hierarchy, the thoughts of Munson are never too far off. Of course I’m speaking of Gene “Stick” Michael, who along with Buck Showalter minus George Steinbrenner, built the foundation that became the most recent dynasty in Yankees’ history. Prior to Tuesday’s exhibition opener against the Florida State Seminoles, Michael was standing by the batting cages speaking with members of the media. Questions began to get asked about the great catchers in Yankees history, and it wasn’t long before the name of Munson came up. You see, Gene Michael during the Yankees winter organizational meetings, was one of the first people to bring up the name Brian McCann as the next great Yankees catcher.
I was talking about his leadership skills…I’d heard what all the Atlanta pitchers had said about him, how they loved pitching to him, and I saw how he took charge on the field. He wants to help his pitchers and uses his knowledge of the hitters. Thurman was the same way. He was smart behind the plate. He knew what the hitters could and couldn’t do, and his leadership was unquestioned. The pitchers relied on him, and it was the same thing in Atlanta with McCann.
Brian McCann has always been known as an on-field leader, someone who commands respect not only from his teammates and his pitching staff, but from his opponents as well. Two instances that come to mind are from last season, where McCann took offense on two separate occasions when hitters who went yard, enjoyed their work a little too much. McCann in both sets of circumstances, was more than happy to share his thoughts as the hitter would be crossing home plate. You don’t show up Brian McCann’s pitchers, period.
When the Munson comparison was brought up to McCann, he replied: “Oh yeah, “I looked up all the stuff on Munson. I think, when they say something like that, it’s just an acknowledgement that I show up every day, prepared. And that’s what I’ve done since I got here. I’m getting to know all the pitchers, developing a rapport. You want them to feel comfortable with you. I didn’t know what (the Yankee brass) had thought about me in their meetings. But once we had that first dinner together, I knew this was going to be a perfect fit for both sides, that this was the place I wanted to be.”
McCann will have the chance to do something that Thurman Munson never could: take full advantage of Yankee Stadium’s short right field porch as a left-handed pull hitter. As Michael added: “How many home runs do you think he’s gonna hit for us there?” More than Munson, that is for sure. While the former Yankee captain had power to all fields and could run better than he was ever given credit for, McCann will use his new home ball park to increase already impressive and consistent career power numbers. While Munson’s career totals left him just shy of serious Hall-of-Fame consideration, if McCann continues his pace now that he’s in pinstripes, along with continuing to make his presence felt on both sides of the diamond, the ghost of Thurman Lee Munson will never be too far away when fans watch the Yankees catcher of the present.