Thurman Munson was another in a long line of New York Yankee greats. He was the Yankees' captain and believe it or not, he is the only Yankee ever to win the Rookie Of The Year and the Most Valuable Player Awards.
Munson was born on June 7, 1947 in Akron, Ohio. He attended Kent State University where the Thurman Munson Batting Award is given each season to the league's leading hitter.
In 1968, the New York Yankees selected Munson with the fourth overall pick in the draft. He made his Major League debut on August 8, 1969 in the second game of a double header against the Oakland A's. He went 2 for 3 with a walk, a run batted in and two runs scored. On August 10, he hit his first Major League home run.
He finished the 1969 season with 97 plate appearances but drew ten walks which gave him 87 official at bats. This allowed him to enter the 1970 season as a rookie.
In 1970, Thurman Munson batted .302 with seven home runs and 57 runs batted in along with 80 assists from the catcher's position earning him the American League's Rookie Of The Year Award.
In 1971, Thurman Munson committed only one error all season. And that was when the Baltimore Orioles' Andy Etchebarren knocked Munson unconscious at a play at the plate and the ball came out of Thurman's glove.
That season, Munson threw out 36 of 59 potential base stealers for a whopping 61%.
In 1973, Thurman Munson won his first of three straight Gold Gloves. He batted .300 and hit a career high 20 home runs. In 1974 he started in the Major League All Star Game.
His 1975 batting average of .318 was third behind Rod Carew and Fred Lynn.
Thurman Munson was named the Yankee Captain in 1976. It was the first time the Yankees designated a team captain since Lou Gehrig retired in 1939. During the 1976 season, Munson hit .302 with 17 home runs and 105 runs batted in to win him the American League's Most Valuable Player Award.
During the American League Championship Series, Thurman hit .435 against the Kansas City Royals. In the World Series, he batted .529 against the Cincinnati Reds. Down three games to none, Munson went four for four in what proved to be the final game of the series as the Reds swept the Yanks.
Thurman Munson batted .308 with 100 runs batted in during the 1977 season. This gave him three consecutive seasons batting .300 or better and driving in at least 100 runs. He became the first catcher to accomplish this since Yankees catcher Bill Dickey did it four times from 1936 to 1939.
The Yankees beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1978 World Series. Munson batted .320 with a home run and threw out four of six potential base stealers.
Munson was overlooked for the All Star team in 1979 despite a .297 batting average. He frequently expressed a desire to play for the Cleveland Indians so he could be close to his home in Canton, Ohio.
Thurman Munson had been taking flying lessons for two years when he bought a Cessna Jet so he could fly home on off days. On August 2, 1979, he was practicing takeoffs and landings at the Akron-Canton Regional Airport with friend Jerry Anderson and flight instructor Dave Hall. On the third landing, Munson 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.
Hall and Anderson both managed to escape the accident with Hall receiving burns on his arms and hands, and Anderson receiving burns on his face, arm and neck. Munson, meanwhile, was trapped inside, and was confirmed dead by Summit County sheriff Anthony Cardarelli. It is believed that his inability to get out of the plane, and the ensuing asphyxiation from inhaling toxic substances, is what killed Munson, rather than injuries sustained on impact or burns. The crash was attributed to pilot error, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.
The day after his death, before the start of the Yankees' four game series with the Baltimore Orioles at Yankee Stadium, the team paid tribute to Thurman in a pre-game ceremony in which the starters stood at their defensive positions, except for the catcher's box, which remained empty. Fans gave Munson an eight minute standing ovation.
On August 6, the entire Yankee team attended Munson's funeral in Canton, Ohio. Teammates Lou Piniella and Bobby Murcer, who were Munson's best friends, gave eulogies. The night before the Yanks beat the Orioles 5-4. Murcer drove in all five runs with a three run homer and a two run single.
Yankee owner George Steinbrenner retired Munson's number 15 immediately upon his catcher's death. On September 20, 1980, a plaque dedicated to Munson's memory was 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.
The locker that Munson used, along with a bronzed set of his catching equipment, was donated to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Despite a packed clubhouse, Munson's final locker position was never reassigned. The empty locker next to current Yankee team captain Derek Jeter's, with Munson's number 15 on it, remained as a tribute to the Yankees' lost catcher in the original Yankee Stadium until the Stadium closed in 2008. Munson's locker was moved in one piece to the New Yankee Stadium. It is located in the New York Yankees Museum. Visitors can view the Yankees Museum on game days from when the gates open to the end of the eighth inning and during Yankee Stadium tours. Munson's 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.
During his eleven seasons with the new York Yankees, Thurman Munson batted .297 with 113 home runs and 701 runs batted in. He hit .357 and drove in 22 runs in post season play.
His career fielding average is .982%. He had 742 assists.
He played in seven All Star games, was the American League's Rookie of the Year in 1970 and the Most Valuable Player in 1976.
Thurman Munson Video Tribute
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