A TRIBUTE TO THURMAN MUNSON
THE "CAPTAIN" OF THE 70'S
This August 2nd marks a very sad 34th anniversary for Yankee fans of my generation. On August 2nd 1979, a small plane in which Yankee captain Thurman Munson was piloting crashed, instantly killing Munson who was only 32 years old. As the news hit late that afternoon, Yankee fans and baseball fans around the world were stunned to hear that Thurman Munson was dead. Even though it has been thirty-four years since that terrible day, Yankee fans like myself will always remember Munson-- especially on "Old Timer's Day"-- when we feel the loss each year as we don't see #15 at Yankee Stadium.
In any tribute to Munson, a writer can list Thurman's statistics and fill up page after page with impressive numbers. Munson won the Rookie-Of-The-Year award in 1970. He was the American League's most valuable player of the 1976 season. He batted over .300 five times while driving in over 100 runs three times. He also led the Yankees to three consecutive pennants in 1976, 1977, and 1978 -- the last two resulting in World Championships. A testament to his trademark, clutch hitting, Munson had a .373 World Series batting average. One can go on and on, but Yankee fans always realized Thurman's true place in Yankee history went beyond just numbers.
Thurman Lee Munson brought pride back to the New York Yankees and their fans. In 1970, the Yankees completed the year with a 93-69 record good for second place. The season was their best since 1964 and Thurman Munson played a major role in the resurgence of the Yankees. Munson hit .302 in 1970 and won the Rookie-Of-The-Year award. For the first time in my youth, I was able to boast about a Yankee player. Thurman Munson was the rookie-of-the-year and damn, I was proud of it!
As the early seventies unfolded, Munson remained steady but the Yankees still failed in trying to return to glory. Nevertheless, Munson was our man. "Sure he's as good as Bench. Fisk? Are you kidding, Thurman's the best." Oh, how I remember those words and school-yard arguments, and if you're my age, you probably remember a few of yours.
In 1976 Thurman, the Yankees, and their fans, didn't have to argue with anyone anymore as the New York Yankees won the American League Pennant for the first time since 1964. Thurman Munson won the American League's Most Valuable Player Award, as "Thurm" hit .302 with 17 homeruns and 105 runs batted in. He did all this while playing the most demanding position in the game, catcher. Yankee fans now had a true superstar on the team and it was a nice feeling.
The '77 and '78 seasons were very stormy and successful for the Yankees and their fans. George Steinbrenner, who was disappointed in the Yankees showing in the 1976 World Series, signed Reggie Jackson as a free agent during the off-season. After some squabbles and little bumps in the road, Munson again led the Yankees to Pennant and World Series wins in both years. My memory during those two years recalls Munson as the heart and soul of the team. He was scrappy. He played injured. He had a swagger that assured Yankee fans that he would get the job done. I still can see him knocking Guidry's hat off his head as he shook "Gator's" hand after another big win in 1978.
Reggie once proclaimed himself as "the straw that stirs the drink". Jax might have been right, but if he was, Thurman was the glass, the ice, the gin, and the tonic. He was our Captain. He was our "Pride Of The Yankees". He represented that "interlocking" N Y better than any Yankee I've known. Yes, thirty-four years have passed, but the light of Thurman Munson still shines at Yankee Stadium. Not only in Monument Park, but in our minds and hearts.
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