SABR

Thurman Munson

This article was written by Jimmy Keenan and Frank Russo.

Throughout the 20th century and to the present, numerous luminary figures have gained everlasting fame as members of the storied New York Yankee franchise. Starting with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in the 1920s, icons like Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford became household names during their illustrious careers. Every decade produced great Yankee stars, and in the early 1970s two stood out among their peers. Bobby Murcer, the sweet swinging outfielder from Oklahoma, was one of these notable players and the other was a scrappy young catcher from Ohio named Thurman Munson. Murcer and Munson were the link between the famous Yankees of old and the future greats that would gain prominence in the years that followed.    

When shipping magnate George Steinbrenner purchased the Yankees in 1973, the new owner took it upon himself to instill a winning attitude among the players. The ballclub, which had not been to the World Series since 1964, would eventually respond. Murcer would not be around to see it as he was traded to San Francisco in 1975, but Munson, who was elected captain of the team the following year, played a key role in the Yankees’ resurgence.

From 1976 through 1978, the Bronx Bombers won a pair of World Series titles and three American League pennants. Munson’s outstanding all-around play on the diamond, as well as his leadership on and off of the field, contributed greatly to all of these championships. Unfortunately for the Yankees’ star catcher, he would not be able to enjoy these well-earned accomplishments for long, as his life was cut short at the pinnacle of his outstanding career.

On August 2, 1979, Munson was killed in a plane crash at the Canton-Akron airport. The Yankee captain was practicing touch-and-go landings in his new jet when the fatal accident occurred. In the days before electronic mail and social media, the news of Thurman Munson’s death flashed like lightning across every TV and radio station in America. No baseball fan wanted to believe it, hoping for some kind of mistake or misidentification. However, after seeing and hearing the numerous news reports, people had to confront the harsh reality of the tragedy. 

Munson was so revered at the time of his passing, flags were flown at half-staff in New York and New Jersey at the behest of the state governors.

The first Yankee player to be named captain since Lou Gehrig, Thurman was popular with his teammates, who respected his dedication to the team. His opponents knew him as a tough hard-nosed competitor who did whatever it took to win.

Munson’s surly demeanor towards reporters could, for the most part, be attributed to slights, misquotes and sometimes venomous articles written about him by various members of the media.  

In regard to Munson’s outwardly gruff disposition, New York Yankee President Gabe Paul once told a reporter, “Thurman Munson is a nice guy who doesn’t want anybody to know it. He didn’t get the press his abilities and leadership deserved. The papers didn’t like him much because he was outspoken. But he was always honest. He leveled with the writers he felt were on the level, the others he didn’t care about.”     

The burly backstop was well known for his tumultuous relationship with Yankee owner George Steinbrenner and teammate Reggie Jackson as well as his heated run-ins with Boston Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk.

Munson played every inning as if it were the seventh game of the World Series, and Yankee fans loved him for it. Off the field, he was a private man who lived his life as a devoted husband and father.

Thurman Lee Munson was born on June 7, 1947, in Akron, Ohio. He was the last of four children born to Darrell Vernon Munson and Ruth Myrna “Smilie” Munson. Darrell Munson was a World War II veteran who became a long-distance trucker after his discharge from the service. Darrell was known to be affable on some occasions, but for the most part he had a disagreeable temperament. This led to his switching jobs on a frequent basis. He and his youngest son had what can be described as somewhat of a strained relationship. If Thurman went four for five with a passed ball, his father would berate him for making an error. In later years, Darrell seemed more apt to talk to reporters about himself, rather than give his son any type of credit for his accomplishments on the ballfield. Munson’s mother Ruth, who was a doting parent to all of her children, readily acknowledged that Thurman was her favorite.

Thurman attended Worley Elementary School in Canton, meeting his future wife Diana Dominick at the school when he was 12 years old. The two eventually got a paper route together and could be found playing catch on many a sunny Canton afternoon.      

He played his first organized baseball games in the Canton Mighty Midget League, later graduating to the Junior Boys circuit and finally to the American Legion Post #44 team.

Munson attended Lehman High in Canton, where he was the school’s star player on the gridiron, the hardwood, and the diamond. Thurman started filling in at catcher during his junior year of high school. He made the move because he was the only player on the Lehman roster that could handle pitcher Jerry Pruett’s ninety-mile-an-hour fastball. Pruett would eventually be selected in the fifth round of the 1965 amateur draft by the St. Louis Cardinals.

Years later, when asked by a writer about making the switch to backstop Munson replied, “I just let my development as a catcher come naturally. Defense wasn’t that important to me then, I just loved to hit and it didn’t matter where I played in the field.”

During his last year at Lehman, over 80 schools, including Kansas, Ohio State, Michigan and Syracuse, contacted him with offers of a football scholarship.

As a senior, Munson smacked the ball for a .581 batting average and was selected to the All-Ohio team as a shortstop. Arizona and Ohio University offered him scholarships contingent on making the baseball squad. Kent State was also interested, offering him a full ride, and due to the close proximity of his girlfriend Diana’s Canton residence, he accepted the offer.

He went on to have an outstanding career at Kent State before opting for pro ball at the end of his junior year. That season, he hit .413 while setting a number of offensive records at the school, which led to his being named to the College All-American team.  

In June of 1968, the New York Yankees picked Munson in the first round of the amateur draft, making him the fourth player selected overall. Yankees general manager Lee McPhail and scout Gene Woodling traveled to the Munson home in Canton to finish the deal, complete with a $70,000 signing bonus.

Munson started out his professional baseball career with the Double AA Binghamton Triplets of the Eastern League in 1968. This was also the height of the Vietnam era, and Thurman was required to register with his local draft board. During the physical, a bone spur was discovered in his ankle, and he was declared unfit for military service.

Thurman made a smooth transition into pro ball, leading the Triplets with a .301 batting average. However, he did play in enough games to qualify for the loop’s batting title.

On September 2, 1968, Thurman married Diana at St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Canton.

Munson got his first experience in the big leagues the following spring, playing in six exhibition games with the Yankees. He played well enough during that time to be promoted up the minor league ladder to the Triple A Syracuse Chiefs.  

Thurman also took another physical for the draft board, and this time he passed. Munson was eventually inducted into the Army Reserve, serving as a clerk for four months at Fort Dix, New Jersey. Thurman would take batting practice at Yankee Stadium in his free time while managing to get in a few games with the Chiefs during the season.

On August 8, 1969, the Yankees activated him to the major league roster for a weekend series against Oakland when catcher Frank Fernandez went on reserve duty. Thurman was given the number 15 jersey, his former college number, by Yankee equipment manager Pete Sheehey. 

Thurman saw his first action in the majors in the second game of a double header against Oakland in which he connected for his first big league hit off of the A’s Catfish Hunter. The 5’11” 195’ pound backstop went three for six with a home run and three RBIs before returning to military duty.

Munson’s reserve hitch in the Army ended on August 30,1969. At that time, he was sent to Syracuse, but his stay was brief, the Yankees bringing him up to their major league roster after just two games with the Chiefs. He spent the remainder of the year in the majors, throwing out seven of 12 base runners in the last month of the 1969 season.    

During the winter of 1969-1970, Thurman played for the San Juan Crabbers in the Puerto Rican League. The great Roberto Clemente, who was Munson’s teammate with San Juan, told the young backstop that if he ever hit under .280 it should be considered a bad season. Thurman played well for the Crabbers, finishing the year with a .333 batting average.                                                         

After hitting .300 in spring training, Munson landed the Yankees’ starting catcher’s job in 1970. After a slow start, Thurman went on to hit well (.302) during his first full season in the bigs as the Yankees climbed from fifth to second in the American League East standings. In November, Munson received 23 out of a possible 24 votes from the Baseball Writers Association (BWA) for the American League Rookie of the Year.

Years later, when asked about Munson’s early career, Yankee pitcher Fritz Peterson told a sports writer, “He was cocky in a good sense, very confident. He was so talented he could get away with it. He also had quite a sense of humor. All of the players liked him from the beginning. And he was such a team man. He did all of the things that a Yankee of old would have done to win games, run, hit, throw and break up double plays.”

Munson started out the 1971 campaign in fine form, but an incident occurred in Baltimore on June 18 that would define his toughness as a ball player. In a game at Memorial Stadium, the Yankee catcher was knocked unconscious by his Oriole counterpart, Andy Etchebarren, in a violent collision at home plate and rushed to a nearby hospital. Never one to be sidelined for long, Munson pinch-hit the next day and caught the following game, connecting for three hits, including a home run.

Thurman ended the season with an uncharacteristically low .251 batting average. However, he played well defensively, leading the league in fielding percentage while finishing second in the loop with 67 assists. He was also selected to his first American League All-Star team.

For the next few years, Munson continued to establish himself as one of the premier catchers in baseball, achieving career highs in home runs (20) in 1973 and batting average (.318) in 1975.

It was during this time that the groundwork was laid for the long running feud between Munson and Boston catcher Carlton Fisk. It all started with a hard slide by Fisk into Munson during the 1972 season. The two rivals later exchanged punches on August 1, 1973 after Munson was put out at the plate on a suicide squeeze. The ensuing bench-clearing free-for-all is one of the most memorable clashes in the history of the Yankee-Red Sox battles. 

Fisk and Munson were intense competitors who were always trying to prove who was the better player. The two backstops were both team leaders who helped their clubs win ballgames with their clutch hitting as well as with their defensive and pitch calling skills behind the dish. The two kept a watchful eye on each other’s statistics during the season, and the spirited competition between the two even went as far as to who received the most all-star votes.        

At the plate, Munson was a deliberate hitter, starting out every at-bat by slowly digging his right foot into the dirt at the back of the batter’s box. From there, he methodically tugged on his batting glove while slowly stretching his neck and back, eventually giving the pitcher the nod when he was ready to go.

In a 1976 newspaper interview, Munson discussed his hitting strategy in an article that originally was published in the Washington Post. “I don’t wait for many pitches and I rarely swing and miss, if I strikeout, really can’t understand it. I look for a pitch right down the middle, then if it is inside or outside I can adjust six inches. But if I looked outside and it came inside corner, how could I adjust 18 inches?”

In regard to his role behind the plate, Thurman once told a reporter “The catcher is the most important man in the game. He does the same kind of job a quarterback does in football. He directs the pitchers and calls the game for them. He must know the capabilities and weaknesses of each batter who comes to the plate. He also acts as kind of a field general because from his position he can oversee the entire field. Even more, he has the important duty of protecting home plate as the runner comes tearing in to try to make the score.”

At the beginning of the 1976 season Yankee manager Billy Martin named Thurman captain of the team, making him the first Yankee to receive that honor since Lou Gehrig. Munson was initially hesitant about accepting the role but eventually agreed. In regard to his new captain, Martin spoke to the New York media saying, “He has just the right cockiness, he’s a born leader.”

Late in the year, there was another bench-clearing brawl between the Red Sox and the Yankees. This time it was New York outfielder Lou Pinella crashing into Fisk at the plate that started the donnybrook. The intensity in which the two teams went at each other on the field inspired the immortal quote from a reporter, “I went to a baseball game last night and a hockey game broke out.”             

The Yankees ended up running away with the American League East in 1976, finishing 10 ½ games in front of second-place Baltimore. Thurman had a great year, compiling a .302 batting average, along with a career-high 105 RBIs and 14 stolen bases. These outstanding statistics netted him the American League Most Valuable Player award. In the playoffs, New York defeated the Kansas City Royals in five games, Munson hitting .435 with two doubles.

In the 1976 Fall Classic, the hard-hitting Cincinnati Reds swept the Yankees in four straight games. The star catchers on both teams put on an impressive display with the bat. The Reds’ Johnny Bench finished the series with a .533 batting average while the Yankees’ Munson was just as good, hitting the ball at a .529 clip.                

During a post Game Four interview a reporter asked Reds manager Sparky Anderson to compare Bench to Munson. In regard to the question, Anderson replied, “Thurman is an outstanding hitter, one of the best we have seen all year. There is no question that he would be a .300 hitter in our league but don’t ask me to compare Johnny Bench with any other catcher, don’t embarrass anyone.” 

Munson, who was in the room at the time, took offense to Sparky’s remarks and let the press and particularly Anderson know about it in no uncertain terms. In regard to Anderson’s comments Munson said, “For me to be belittled after my season and series, it hurts. I don’t appreciate having it rubbed in my face.” 

After learning of his displeasure over the comments Anderson sent a letter of apology to the Yankee catcher and another copy to Si Burick, sports editor of the Dayton Daily News. The letter was eventually published in many newspapers. The letter read, “Dear Thurman, First of all I hope you accept my sincere apology. I had no intention of trying to belittle you or any other catcher. What I said about comparing Bench to any other catcher I have said not only this year but in other years. Thurman, I might be at fault for speaking so strongly on Bench but that is the way I feel. I sure hope I will never belittle anyone. I only hope you know how sincere I am about this letter, Sincerely, Sparky.”

Munson was not impressed by the tenor of Anderson’s apology, but out of respect for the Reds’ manager he let the matter drop.  

In early January of 1977, Munson and team owner George Steinbrenner came to terms on a five-year contract that paid the Yankee captain a $250,000 annual salary. Thurman spoke to the press at that time, saying that he had a verbal agreement with Steinbrenner citing that he would always be the highest paid player on the New York payroll.

A short time later, Munson found out that free agent Reggie Jackson, who had signed with the team back in November, had been given an incentive-laden contract that gave him the highest salary on the ballclub. Thurman considered this a direct breach of the agreement between him and Steinbrenner, causing an immediate rift between Jackson and the Yankee backstop.

A poor performance by some of the Yankees on ABC’s Superstar team challenge against the Cinncinatti Reds caused even more friction between Jackson and Munson. Jackson participated in the event with his new teammates while doing double duty as an announcer for the network. The Reds went on to defeat the Yankees in the rowing, cycling, and tug-of-war events. This caused the outspoken and highly competitive Jackson to call out his new teammates for dogging it during the competition. Some of the Yankees, including Munson and Graig Nettles snubbed Jackson during the interview segment of the program, setting the stage for New York’s season of discontent.    

A few weeks after the incident, Yankee owner George Steinbrenner held a luncheon for the players involved to defuse any future problems that might arise in the Yankee clubhouse. All issues presumably were settled at this time.

A short time later, Jackson made disparaging statements about Munson’s leadership abilities, saying that he was now the new leader of the ballclub. He also said he would have never let the Reds sweep the Yankees in four games if he had been the captain.

The Yankees started out the 1977 season 2-8 but went on to win the next 14 out of 16 games. Reggie’s early season slump along with his failure to shake hands in the dugout after hitting a clutch home run widened the already growing gap between himself and his teammates. 

To make matters much worse, Jackson made the metaphorical comment in the May edition of Sport Magazine about being the straw that stirred the Yankees drink. He also added that Munson could only stir it bad. These latest inflammatory statements in the press were the final straw, so to speak, with many of the Yankee players and nearly all of the fans.

The 1977 season turned out to be a contentious but eventually successful one for the Bronx Bombers. Problems between Jackson and Munson were always simmering just beneath the surface. In addition, manager Billy Martin and Steinbrenner were constantly arguing over where Reggie should bat in the order. Behind the scenes, Munson and Yankee owner George Steinbrenner were still at odds over Jackson’s contract.

Ironically, Munson had lobbied for Reggie to join the club. He was also in favor of the southpaw slugger moving up in the batting order

Munson was usually able to play through most of his injuries, which included sore knees, a bad thumb plus nerve damage, and bursitis in his throwing arm. However, it took a serious staph infection to sideline him for eight games early in the 1977 season. A short time later, a cut on his throwing hand required seven stitches, but he managed to stay in the lineup. Remarkably, he was still able to have a good year, compiling a .308 batting average to go along with his third straight 100-RBI season. Yankee Hall of Famer Yogi Berra told Munson that he considered him the best hitter in the league with men on base.   

Reggie finally got going with the bat after being moved to the cleanup spot (.285-32-110), and everything began to fall into place. The Yankees managed to play great baseball through all of the controversy, edging out the Baltimore Orioles by 2 1/2 games for the American League East flag. New York went on to defeat the Kansas City Royals in the playoffs. Munson hit .285 with a home run and 5 RBIs as the Yankees captured their second consecutive American League title.

The Dodgers and the Yankees squared off in the Fall Classic that year with New York coming out on top in six games. In one of the few instances in which Reggie and Thurman ever agreed on anything, both men threatened not to play if the complimentary tickets for their families at Dodger Stadium were not upgraded.

The 1977 World Series would be forever known for Reggie Jackson’s dismantling of the Dodgers pitching staff. The power-hitting outfielder connected for a .475 batting average and five home runs, three in the final game. Munson, whose stellar accomplishments with the bat in the series were overshadowed by Jackson’s amazing performance, compiled a solid .320 batting average. 

Regardless of their conflicts during the season, Reggie and Thurman celebrated together during the post-game festivities. However, Munson, who had been asking for a trade all year, remained adamant about being dealt to Cleveland to be closer to his family.           

During the following off-season, Thurman and Yankee owner Steinbrenner were able to work things out, and Munson agreed to stay with the team. It was also during this time that the Yankee catcher earned his pilot’s license and began pursuing his newfound passion for flying. 

The atmosphere during the Yankees’ spring training was a little more civil in March of 1978 as the Yankees were gearing up for another run at the pennant. For the most part, the Munson/Jackson feud had died down to a tolerable degree. However, the publication of Thurman’s biography in June, in which he criticized Reggie’s ego among other things, did nothing to enhance their friendship.         

In late July, manager Billy Martin, who was Munson’s good friend, was fired by George Steinbrenner for making derogatory remarks about the Yankee owner and Jackson in the press. Martin was replaced by Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Lemon, who had been a coach with New York in 1976. The Yankees responded well to their new leader, notching 100 victories and beating out rival Boston by just one game for the American League East title.

The Boston Red Sox, who at one time had a 14-game lead in the division, battled the Yankees down to the wire that year. After a heated September pennant race, both teams finished the regular season tied for first place. To break the deadlock, a sudden-death playoff game was scheduled between the two clubs.. 

The tiebreaker was played on October 2,1978, at Fenway Park in Boston in front of a sold out crowd. Things appeared to be going Boston’s way as Red Sox pitcher Mike Torrez cruised into the top of the seventh inning, leading 2-0. With two men on and two out, light-hitting shortstop Bucky Dent popped a home run over the Green Monster in left field, giving New York a 3–2 lead. Two batters later, Munson came through with a clutch RBI double that gave the Yankees a two-run cushion. In the eighth inning, Reggie hit a solo shot for an extra insurance run.

New York went on to beat Kansas City in the playoffs for their third consecutive American League crown. In the eighth inning of Game Three with the Yankees trailing the Royals 5-4, Thurman blasted a monstrous two-run homer off pitcher Doug Bird. The ball traveled 460 feet, ending up in the Yankee bullpen in deep left center

field. This timely round tripper is considered to be one of the most clutch home runs in Yankee post-season history. This was also the game in which Hall of Famer George Brett belted three solo home runs in a losing effort for the Royals.         

The Yankees squared off against the Dodgers for the second straight year in the Fall Classic, and once again New York came out on top in six games. This Series started off on a different note from the previous year as the Yankees dropped the first two games but battled back to win the next four. Munson, who always seemed to rise to the occasion in the post season, hit .320 with 3 doubles and seven RBIs for the two-time World Champs. 

Over the winter, Thurman was still making overtures in the press about wanting to play in Cleveland. The Yankee front office, as it had done in the past, refused to consider any deals or trades for Munson, who was one of the team’s most popular players.

The 1979 season did not go well for the Yankees as injuries to key players took a toll on the team’s won-lost record. In early July, Munson purchased a new Cessna Citation twin engine jet at the cost of 1.25 million dollars. His intention was to use this high-speed aircraft to travel back and forth from New York to Canton on off days in order to spend more time with his wife and children.

In his 1984 autobiography co-written by Mike Lupica, Reggie Jackson spoke about an ominous incident that occurred just weeks before the fatal crash.

Munson invited Jackson (who was now on much friendlier terms with the Yankee captain) to fly with him and his co-pilot from Seattle to John Wayne Airport near Anaheim, where the Yankees were playing their next series. Jackson recounted that there were problems with the plane’s equipment including the altimeter [which measures the distance to the ground.] during the flight. Munson told Jackson at the time “nothing ever works right in this damn plane.”   

In late July of 1979, Thurman, who had been playing in severe pain all year, was sent to the Yankees’ team doctor to have his aching knees checked. Billy Martin, who had been rehired as manager in June, speculated in the press that Munson would not be able to catch for the rest of the season.

With an off day approaching in early August, Thurman asked teammates Reggie Jackson, Lou Pinella and Bobby Murcer, who had rejoined the Yankees midway through the 1979 season, to fly with him to Canton in his new plane. All three men declined due to previous commitments in addition to expressing some trepidation among themselves about flying with Munson in his new plane.            

During the early afternoon of August 2, 1979, Munson, who only had 34 hours of flying time in the Cessna twin engine jet drove to the Canton-Akron airport to work on touch and go landings. When he arrived at the airport, he asked two friends, David Hall, who had previously been his flight instructor, and Jerry Anderson to accompany him on his practice runs.

After two successful landings, the plane took off again. This time, during his final approach, the air controller at the Akron Canton Airport directed Munson to a different runway. His former flight instructor, David Hall, told investigators that he was under the impression that the plane lost altitude as Thurman lowered the landing gear. Hall also said that he believed they were too low to attempt to land on the elevated runway, which was 50 feet higher than the ground where they eventually crashed. As the jet descended, it sheered off the top of three trees before slamming into a stump on the ground. It eventually spun completely around, coming to stop 600 feet short of the runway.

Seconds after the impact, David Hall and Jerry Anderson recall Munson asking them if they were both all right and then requesting help. His two friends were able to exit the aircraft unimpeded, but neither man could remove the injured ball player from the plane. The two later told investigators they couldn’t unhook Munson’s seat belt due to the extreme heat and fire inside the cockpit. With no further options, the two abandoned their rescue efforts as the wreckage became engulfed in flames. Sadly, none of the emergency personnel at the airport were able to get to Munson in time, and he lost his life in the ensuing conflagration.   

The funeral was held at the Canton Civic Center. The entire Yankee team and front office personnel flew out to Ohio on a charter plane that was arranged and paid for by George Steinbrenner. A gold framed photograph of Thurman in a Yankee uniform was placed near the closed coffin while six of his close friends from Canton acted as pallbearers. Father Robert Coleman of St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Canton officiated the solemn ceremony. Numerous baseball dignitaries and former teammates were in the audience in addition to a large crowd that gathered outside of the Civic Center.

Thurman was survived by his wife Diana and their three children, Tracey Lynne (9), Kelly (8), and Michael (4), who came to the service wearing a Yankee jersey with the number 15 on the back. Munson’s good friends Lou Pinella and Bobby Murcer recited Bible passages during the service. They also gave moving eulogies although Murcer was so grief-stricken he had to cut his short.

The Munson family received hundreds of telegrams of condolence, and Diana selected four to be read aloud at the service. The telegrams that were chosen were from Lou and Anita Pinella, Muhammad Ali, Eleanor Gehrig [Lou’s widow] and Reggie Jackson,                       

When speaking about their relationship at the time of Munson’s death Reggie wrote in his 1984 autobiography, “Our wars were behind us then and if we weren’t best friends, I at least thought of us as battle scarred comrades, who’d finally achieved a warm measure of respect and formed a basis of understanding.” 

Boston Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk spoke to reporter about the passing of his former rival: “If we were the worst or best of enemies, it was because we had the highest amount of respect for one another. We both thought we were the best catcher in the league and we tried to prove it to one another that each of us was better then the other. I talked to him more than any other player when we played them. We’d talk about catching and how much we hurt. People make baseball players out to be idols. They talk about how important it is to be the highest paid player, to get the ink and print. And then this, I guess the point is driven home stronger to me because I respect the man so much and because I really miss him. There was no such thing as hatred between us. I really had the utmost respect for him as a person.”

Bereaved owner George Steinbrenner said about Munson shortly after his death: “There is very little I can say to adequately express my feelings at this moment. I’ve lost a dear friend, a pal and one of the greatest competitors I’ve ever known. We spent many hours together talking baseball and business. He loved his family, he was our leader. The great sport, which made him so famous, seems so very small and unimportant now. And there lies a great lesson for all of us.”                

Years later, Diana Munson reached an out of court multi-million-dollar settlement with the Cessna corporation in regard to the aircraft company’s culpability in the crash. Mechanical problems with the aircraft along with allowing an inexperienced pilot to purchase such a high tech plane were some of the legal issues that were brought forth in the case.

Thurman Munson played 11 seasons with the New York Yankees. The seven-time All- Star finished his career with a 1,558 hits, 113 home runs, 701 RBI, a .292 lifetime batting average, three Gold Gloves and two World Series rings. In 1998, the Sporting News selected Munson as their starting American League catcher for the decade of the 1970s.    

Although he’s been gone for many years now, “The Captain’s” legacy lives on. The annual Thurman Munson Awards Dinner is held to benefit the AHRC-New York City Foundation, which assists children and adults with intellectual and learning disabilities. Athletes from all sports, who perform charitable work, are honored at this very popular event. Since its inception in 1980, this banquet has raised over $10,000,000 for the AHRC’s programs and services in the New York area.    

As a lasting tribute, a plaque with Munson’s image was mounted in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium. In addition, his locker was never given out to any other player. When the construction on the current Yankee Stadium was completed, his locker was transported across the street to the new ballpark.

A replica of the Munson locker is on display at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, complete with his jersey and catcher’s gear—a fitting and much deserved tribute to the Yankee’s respected leader.   

August 16, 2011


Sources

Appel, Martin. Munson: The Life and Death of a Yankee Captain. New York:Doubleday, 2009.

Jackson, Reggie, and Mike Lupica. Reggie: The Autobiography of Reggie Jackson with Mike Lupica. New York: Villiard Books, 1984.

Kahn, Roger. October Men: Reggie Jackson, George Steinbrenner, Billy Martin and the Yankees’ Miraculous Finish in 1978. Orlando: Harcourt, 2004.

Russo, Frank, and Gene Racz. Bury My Heart at Cooperstown, Salacious, Sad, and Surreal Deaths in the History of Baseball. Chicago: Triumph Books, 2006.

Various articles from Frank Russo’s The Deadballera.com website

St. Petersburg Times

Youngstown Vindicator

Lewiston Journal

Lewiston Morning Tribune 

Ocala Star Banner

Sporting News

The Rock Hill Herald

The Daily Sentinel   

The Palm Beach Post

The City Herald

Sumter Daily Item

The Milwaukee Journal

The Virgin Islands Daily News

Lawrence Journal-World

New York Daily News <

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