Yankees legends remembered: Happy 70th Thurman Munson

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports /

June 7th is Yankees legendary catcher Thurman Munson‘s birthday. More importantly, his birthday this year would’ve been his 70th. In this piece, we’ll take a look at his career highlights and why he is a Yankees name that will last a lifetime.

Yankees fans, when we hear of some of the greatest catchers in MLB history, quite a few names first come to mind. The likes of Gary Carter and Johnny Bench are always names that are high up on that list.

When we think of the Yankees’ great catchers, we also think of a few names instantaneously. Yogi Berra, Bill Dickey, and Thurman Munson are three of the names that pop up when the Yankees legendary catchers are brought up in debates.

Munson is one of those catchers that many baseball fans can still remember watching without it being a distant memory. He holds a special place in Yankees history because of everything he accomplished before his tragic death. We’ll begin this birthday tribute by looking at his rise to stardom.

Destined for Greatness

Thurman Lee Munson was born on June 7th, 1947 in Akron, Ohio. In high school, he played all three major sports, all of which he was captain of, and was all city and all state. From the very beginning, he was gifted greatly as an athlete and seemed like he could do it all.

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He went on to join the Chatham Anglers of the Cape Cod Baseball League in 1967. Upon joining that same season, he boasted a .420 batting average and went on to win the league championship. To consider how much impact he had in the league, they have since named their batting trophy the ‘Thurman Munson Batting Award.’

Only a year later, he was drafted by the Yankees. He only actually played one whole season in the minors before the Yankees called him up to the main roster. His first full season in the majors in 1970 is certainly memorable. Munson batted .302 and drove in 53 RBIs, which led him to become the AL Rookie of the Year. Certainly, Thurman was off to a great start.

From All-State to All-Star to Captain

It’s quite funny how life tends to work out. As mentioned before, Munson was an all city and all state player in high school. So, it was only fitting that we would become an all-star in the majors as well. In only his second full season (1971), he was named to the AL All-star team; his very first of seven times.

He would only miss ’72 and ’79 as an all-star and was a consecutive all-star for six straight years. From ’73 to ’75, he won Gold Gloves to add to his growing trophy collection. And in 1976, he was bestowed the honor of being the MVP amongst the entire American League. Fitting, considering he put up over 100 RBIs between 1975 and 1977.

But aside from all the honors and awards, his greatest achievements came from the Yankees’ back-to-back World Series wins. Munson helped lead the team to the promised land in both 1977 and 1978.

Already dubbed the Yankees’ captain in ’76, this certainly puts him amongst the greats; both amongst the MLB and the Yankees organization. He accomplished so much in such little time it truly is remarkable. While 11 years is certainly a healthy career, it’s not nearly as long as other captains such as Jeter and Gehrig.

A Tragic End to a Brilliant Career

Just as fast as Munson accomplished greatness, it all came to an end on a day that will live in infamy in Yankees history. On August 2, 1979, still during the MLB season, he crashed his plane and died in an unfortunate accident. The two men that were with him would walk away, but

Munson was not so lucky. He was only 32, still such a young age to pass. While it was assumed he would have retired at season’s end, he wasn’t so lucky to have that final honor.

But, the Yankees made sure to honor Munson differently. That same year, they retired his number ’15’ which still lives on in Monument Park.

Remembering ‘Tugboat.’

There are many ways to remember Thurman Munson on this special day. Fans that watched him play will remember his achievements as an individual player and the success he brought to the team. Then there are fans who can only remember him as a legend in the annals of Yankees history, such as myself.

Regardless, he will always be a part of what made the Yankees a great team during the late ’70s. And of course, he will always be remembered and celebrated so long as there are memories and tributes such as Monument Park around.

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So here’s to you Thurman Munson, happy 70th birthday. Even though you’re not here to celebrate it yourself, your memory lives on for us to celebrate it for you. We will never forget you.