This article was written by Marty Appel
This article was published in the 1984 Baseball Research Journal
This is a story about the day Thurman Munson dropped three third strikes for my benefit.
It happened in the early 1970s when Thurman’s “feud” with Boston rival Carlton Fisk was just beginning to heat up. The Yankee catcher, who died in the crash of his airplane in August 1979, genuinely disliked his counterpart, whom he addressed on the field as “Fisk.” (“Listen, Fisk,” he’d say, “don’t go popping off in the papers about me.”)
As the Yankees’ public relations director, part of my routine was to put out a daily sheet containing “press notes.” It contained all sorts of odds and ends such as upcoming promotion days, current batting streaks, club leaders, etc.
On this one particular day early in the season, I noticed a close contest for the lead in assists by catchers, Fisk having 27, Munson 25. The material then turned up in my press notes as follows:
AL ASSIST LEADERS, CATCHERS: Fisk, Boston 27, Munson, NY 25
The players usually glance over these notes while the opposing team takes batting practice, and when I entered the Yankee clubhouse, Munson was livid.
“What’s the idea of showing me up like this?” he demanded. “You think for one minute he’s got a better arm than me? What a stupid statistic!”
He stormed off, leaving me to second-guess myself. But he wasn’t through making his point.
In the game immediately following, Munson dropped the third strike on the game’s first strikeout, recovered, and threw to first to retire the batter. Put out first baseman, assist catcher. I didn’t look down at him, but it did occur to me in the press box that he’d cut Fisk’s lead to 27-26.
The next inning it happened again. He dropped the third strike, fired to first, retired the runner – and tied Fisk. This time I did glance at him, never thinking that my press note was still on his mind. But it obviously was, because he looked straight at me and held up two fingers, probably indicating two assists.
A short time later, it happened again. This time there was no mistaking what had happened. We stared right at each other, and he had a big smile on his face. He’d made his point – the assists category was a little on the misleading side. It could reward clumsy catchers as well as strong throwers.
I sought him out after the game, which the Yankees won. He denied up and down that he’d done it on purpose, although I’m sure he never dropped three in one game before or after. But he didn’t deny that he’d taught me a lesson, intentional or not.
MARTY APPEL co-authored Thurman Munson’s autobiography in 1978 and is now vice-president/public relations with New York City radio station WPIX.