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Thurman Munson and Billy Martin during batting practice at Old Yankee Stadium in 1976 and Thurman in action.
Photo Credit: Joseph Leotta(c)

Thurman Munson

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Thurman Munson

Thurman Munson
Born: June 7, 1947(1947-06-07)
Akron, Ohio
Died: August 2, 1979 (aged 32)
Canton, Ohio
Batted: Right Threw: Right 
MLB debut
August 8, 1969 for the New York Yankees
Last MLB appearance
August 1, 1979 for the New York Yankees
Career statistics
Batting average     .292
Hits     1,558
Home runs     113
Runs batted in     701
Career highlights and awards

Thurman Lee Munson (June 7, 1947 – August 2, 1979) was an American catcher in Major League Baseball who played with the New York Yankees from 1969 to 1979. Munson was killed at age 32 while trying to land his personal airplane.



[edit] Life and career

Born in Akron, Ohio to Darrell Vernon Munson and Ruth Myrna Smylie, Thurman grew up in nearby Canton. He graduated from Lehman High School in Canton, where he earned scholarship offers from various colleges due to his standout performances in football, basketball, as well as baseball. [1] Munson opted to attend nearby Kent State University on scholarship, where he was a teammate of pitcher and broadcaster Steve Stone. At Kent, Munson joined the Delta Upsilon fraternity. In September 1968 he married Diane Dominick at St. John's Parish, Canton.

In the summer of 1967, Munson joined the prestigious Cape Cod Baseball League leading his Chatham A's to their first ever league title. In the process Munson hit an amazing .420. To recognize this achievement and his subsequent MLB career, the Thurman Munson Batting award is given each season to the CCBL's best hitter.

Munson was selected by the Yankees with the fourth pick in the first round of the 1968 amateur draft. In the minor leagues, he caught for the Binghamton Triplets in their final (1968) season. He was named the American League Rookie of the Year in 1970 after batting .302 with seven home runs and 57 RBI, and making 80 assists. In 1976, he was voted the American League MVP after batting .302 with 17 home runs and 105 RBI, and stealing 14 bases. He is the only Yankee ever to win both the Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player awards.

An outstanding fielder, Munson made only one error while behind the plate in 1971 (he was knocked unconscious by a runner, dislodging the ball). He went on to win three straight Gold Glove Awards starting in 1973. A seven-time All-Star, Munson hit 113 home runs, batted in 701 runners, and had a career batting average of .292 over his 10-year career. He was also the first captain named by the Yankees since Lou Gehrig. Munson helped lead his team to three consecutive World Series (1976–78), where he batted a remarkable .373 overall (.339 in the American League Championship Series). From 1975-77, Munson hit .300 or better with 100 or more RBI each year, becoming the first catcher to accomplish the feat in three consecutive years since Yankee Hall of Famer Bill Dickey did it four straight seasons from 1936-39. Since Munson's run, Mike Piazza has also accomplished it (1996-98).

In the 1976 World Series, Munson batted .529 and collected six consecutive hits to tie a World Series record set by Goose Goslin of the Washington Senators in 1925, (also in a losing effort). After this hitting performance, which included a 4-for-4 night in the final game at Yankee Stadium, Reds manager Sparky Anderson was asked by a reporter to compare Munson with his catcher, Johnny Bench. Anderson's comment at the post-World Series press conference — "You don't compare anyone to Johnny Bench. You don't want to embarrass anybody" — may have been a tribute to his great player, but it angered Munson.[2]

Munson batted .320 with a home run in the 1977 World Series, in which the Yankees defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers four games to two. In Game 3 of the 1978 American League Championship Series, with the Yankees tied a game apiece with the Kansas City Royals and trailing 5-4 in the bottom of the eighth inning, he hit the longest home run of his career, a 475-foot (145 m) shot off Doug Bird over Yankee Stadium's Monument Park in left-center field, to give the Yankees a 6-5 win. They won the pennant the next day, and in the World Series against the Dodgers, Munson caught a pop-up by Ron Cey for the final out.

[edit] Death and legacy

Thurman Munson's number 15 was retired by the New York Yankees in 1979

Munson was frequently homesick, and took flying lessons so that he could fly home to his family in Canton on off-days[citation needed]. On August 2, 1979, he was practicing takeoffs and landings in his new Cessna Citation I/SP jet at the Akron-Canton Regional Airport. On the third touch-and-go, Munson failed to lower the flaps for landing and allowed the aircraft to sink too low before increasing engine power, causing the jet to clip a tree and fall short of the runway. The plane then hit a tree stump and burst into flames, killing Munson (who was trapped inside) and injuring two other companions, Jerry Hall and Jerry Anderson of Canton[3]. It is believed that the inability to get out of the plane, and the ensuing asphyxiation, is what killed Munson, rather than injuries sustained on impact or burns. Munson's friends in the aircraft survived the accident. [4] The crash was attributed to pilot error, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. [5]

Munson was survived by his wife, Diana, and their three children. The day after his death, before the start of the Yankees' four-game set with the Baltimore Orioles in the Bronx, the Yankees paid tribute to their deceased captain in a pre-game ceremony during which the starters stood at their defensive positions, save for the catcher's box, which remained empty. At the conclusion of Robert Merrill's musical selection, the fans (announced attendance 51,151) burst into a 10-minute standing ovation.

Four days later, on August 6, the entire Yankee team attended his funeral in Canton, Ohio. Lou Piniella and Bobby Murcer, who were Munson's best friends as well as teammates, gave eulogies. That night (in front of a national viewing audience on ABC's Monday Night Baseball) the Yankees beat the Orioles 5-4 in New York, with Murcer driving in all five runs with a three-run home run in the seventh inning and a two-run single in the bottom of the ninth.[6]

On August 1, 1980, the day before the one year anniversary of the accident, the Yankees filed a $4.5 million lawsuit against Cessna Aircraft Co. and Flight Safety International, Inc. (the company who was training Munson to fly) with team spokesman John J. McCarty saying "we asked for $4.5 million because that is what Munson would be worth if the Yankees traded him"[7].

Immediately following Munson's death, Yankee owner George Steinbrenner announced that his uniform number 15 was being retired. On September 20, 1980, a plaque was dedicated in Munson's memory and placed in Monument Park. The plaque bears excerpts from an inscription composed by Steinbrenner and flashed on the Stadium scoreboard the day after his death:

Our captain and leader has not left us, today, tomorrow, this year, next ... Our endeavors will reflect our love and admiration for him.

To this day, despite a packed clubhouse, an empty locker next to current Yankee team captain Derek Jeter's, with Munson's number 15 on it, remains as a tribute to the Yankees' lost catcher. The original locker that Munson used, along with a bronzed set of his catching equipment, was donated to the Baseball Hall of Fame (Munson himself is not in the Hall, generally considered by most sportswriters to be a "borderline" candidate at best due to the brevity of his career). His number 15 is also displayed on the center field wall at Thurman Munson Stadium, a minor-league ballpark in Canton. Munson is buried at Canton's Sunset Hills Burial Park. In January of 2008 Munson's youngest son, Michael, opened a baseball-themed sports bar in Canton called Munson's Home Plate Sports Pub. The pub is decorated in baseball memorabilia and photographs from throughout Munson's career.

Thurman is one of three Yankees who died in aviation accidents, including pitchers Jim Hardin in 1991 and Cory Lidle in 2006.

[edit] References

  1. ^
  2. ^ All Roads Lead to October (chapter 10) by Maury Allen, St. Martin's Press 2000 ISBN 0-312-26175-6
  3. ^ The Frederick Maryland News, August 7, 1980, page 24
  4. ^ ibid., chapter 10, reprinted at Internet Archive's last entry for the history page
  5. ^ The Frederick Maryland News, August 7, 1980, page 24
  6. ^ Retrosheet
  7. ^ The Frederick Maryland News, August 7, 1980, page 24

[edit] External links


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