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Thurman Munson’s Death: Feels Like Yesterday

"O Captain! My Captain!"

Thirty years ago today, Thurman Munson, the first Yankees captain since Lou Gehrig, died when he crashed while practicing "touch and go" landings at an airstrip close to his Canton, Ohio home. He was 32 years old, and unbeknownst to anyone at the time, it signaled the end of an era; a hole in the soul that lasted for nearly 20 years before the Yankees got things back on track, and stands as the resolute heart of the New York Yankees.

Some, like an old fart like me, considers it an enduring wound.

I had the unfortunate timing to be born in the Bronx in 19-six oh; become a Yankee fan when, for lack of a better description, the Yankees went straight to hell in a handbasket after getting aced by the Cards in 1964, after a decade-plus run that can only be considered majestic.

While fellow BC writer Anthony Tobis may consider the late 80s/early 90s squads as the nadir of the franchise, I gotta say, "you don't know nuthin' bout losing (and get off my lawn!)."

Try being a kid born in the Bronx circa 1960 and being introduced to 160 First and River Avenue when the team was on the wane. The Stadium was my constant from about roughly the age of five. Even though my father, an Irish immigrant, never did figure out the lure of Yankees (or any other brand) of baseball; even while he brought me there every Sunday they were playing at home just to shut me up, even after we bugged out from the Bronx and landed on Staten Island.

He gave me righteous hell when he discovered I had taken a treasure scored from a Saturday afternoon Gaelic Park hurling match, a goal-scored sliotar and I forged Mickey Mantle's signature on the thing.

Later, after the hated that Mutts had established themselves as an actual force (and Pops had died), when the Yanks looked like a hopeless morass that was gonna cause me nothing but agony, Thurman Munson showed up.

Thurman changed everything.

There would have never been "Mr. October" if not for Thurman Munson. Forget about Boss George and his high-flying signings and hysterical palpitations. Thurman went from Rookie of the Year to MVP, all the while showing grit I have only seen in two players employed by a New York Metro area team; one guy played hockey at MSG; the other was Battlin' Billy Smith.

Thurman took a team from crap to the cathedral. Do you honestly think Catfish would have signed back then if he did not love the idea of Thurman helping him deal with the whole NY ordeal, having "The Wall" squatting behind the plate helping to keep him safe?

Tobis laments the plight of Donnie Baseball. Don Mattingly was a great player, no argument, but, sorry, I remember the agony of watching Mickey Mantle gimping his way around the basepaths, a shell of the greatest player of his era, jogging the bases barely ambulatory, struggling to make it home when the ball was already headed for the Grand Concourse. I remember Thurman, looking like a cripple that needed a stretcher, getting picked up by his teammates and dragging his ass back behind the plate, where he would continue to talk smack to Carlton Fisk and everybody else every chance available.

Mattingly quit because his back was stiff. He could have DH'd for at least five years.

All you ever need to know about Thurman Munson is summed up in one simple stat: his only error committed during the 1971 season — his rookie year — was when he got knocked out cold from a collision at the plate.

If Pudge Fisk makes the Hall, you better explain why Thurman isn't standing right beside beside, talking some trash.

Thurman belongs in Cooperstown; Donnie Baseball don't.

About TC Lynch

  • Tony

    I appreciate the “shout out” but please don’t doubt my knowledge of Yankee history and especially of Mickey Mantle. I could probably write a biography on him without any sources. I lement Donny baseball because he’s the only Yankee legend not to win a ring, retiring one season before the “new” dynasty.

    I am also well aquainted with the late 60s Yankees and their stuggles during the CBS years. Bouton’s arm went out, Al Downing never materialized, and Mel Stottlemeyer struggled through the lean years with Murcer, Munson, and Peppitone.

    Great article on a great Yankee, but you gotta throw a little more respect my way on Yankee history. Check out my All Time Yankee All Stars article.

  • Tony

    There is obviously no comparison with Mantle and Donnie by the way. Mantle, im my opinion, is arguably the greatest player not named Babe Ruth. People forget the speed he had before he stepped in that drainage hole in the ’51 series. The guy could hit a 500 plus ft homer (Griffth Stadium) and beat out a drag bunt with the best of them.

  • http://leatherpenguin.com/wordpress/ TC Lynch

    No disrespect intended, Tony. And I brought up Mantle because all I remember hearing as a kid was, “You should have seen him before.”

  • Tony

    Oh I know you didn’t mean any disrespect. I appreciated the mention. Again, good job on the piece.