A tribute to Thurman Munson: The captain who never left the Yankees

Thurman Munson of the New York Yankees

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Forty-four years ago, on this day, the Yankees suffered a great loss. Their captain, Thurman Munson, who was one of their most charismatic and beloved players, died in a plane accident. An amazing catcher known for his excellent hitting prowess, Thurman Munson was also considered the spirited leader of the team and was even made captain in 1976, a first by the Yankees since Lou Gehrig‘s retirement in 1939. He had been with the team since 1969 and played a significant role in the Yankees winning the World Series in 1976 and 1978.

Thurman Munson was a fantastic player in every aspect of the game, and his strong leadership on and off the field played a big role in the team’s championship wins. Sadly, despite his achievements, he didn’t get to enjoy them for long. His life ended abruptly during the peak of his successful career.

Remembering Thurman Munson, Moss Klein, who covered the Yankees for the New Jersey Star-Ledger wrote:

“There was never a player that I knew of, on the Yankees or on any other team, who was as respected as much as Munson was on the team.”. Klein also said “I always thought the phrase about being a ‘team leader’ was overdone, but in his case, it was true. The way he played, the way he acted, his toughness … he wasn’t afraid to say anything to anybody. Players gravitated around him. It was really remarkable to watch.”

The Thurman Munson era of the Yankees

George Steinbrenner‘s dream of having a successful Yankees team felt incomplete without Thurman Munson. He became the team’s owner in 1973. The Yankees hadn’t won a World Series since 1962 and hadn’t even made it to the World Series since 1964. The Boss wanted to create a team that could end this long period without championships. Thurman Munson played a significant role in revitalizing the team and bringing back its winning spirit.

In 1976, George Steinbrenner chose Thurman Munson as the captain of the Yankees, the first time since Lou Gehrig. Munson, who was the team’s catcher, even won the AL Most Valuable Player Award that same year. He was known as the heart and soul of the Yankees and performed really well in the World Series of 1976, 1977, and 1978, with batting averages of .528, .320, and .320, respectively. From 1976 to 1978, he led the Yankees to the World Series every single year, and they managed to win in the last two of those years. Thurman Munson was selected for the All-Star game seven times during his 10-year MLB career. Tragically, he passed away in a plane crash on August 2, 1979, when he was just 32 years old.

Thurman Munson's plaque at the New York Yankees Monument Park at Yankee Stadium.

Thurman Munson played a crucial role in keeping the Yankees’ pitchers on track during the years when they finally won championships after a long time without titles. He was known for his strong competitiveness, and all his teammates appreciated that. His greatness goes beyond just his batting average and the number of home runs he hits. The Yankees wouldn’t have won those pennants and championships without him.

Thurman Munson had some impressive statistics. He played for a good number of years. His batting average was.292. When he first started in 1970, he won the Rookie of the Year award and had a batting average of.302. He also received Gold Glove awards in 1973, 1974, and 1975 for his great defensive skills. Throughout his career, he hit 113 home runs and had 701 runs batted in (RBI).

A seven-time All-Star seven, Thurman Munson won the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award in 1976 when he became a key leader for the Yankees. He managed to achieve a batting average of over .300 for three consecutive years, from 1975 to 1977. However, Munson’s peak performance was during the playoffs. He maintained a batting average of.373 in 16 World Series starts and had an overall playoff average of.357.

Thurman Munson as Yankees captain

Thurman Munson became the Yankees’ team captain, the first since Lou Gehrig, at the beginning of the 1976 season. He had a great response by achieving a batting average of.302 along with 17 home runs and 105 runs batted in (RBI). This outstanding performance led him to win the Most Valuable Player (MVP) Award in the American League. 

His contribution also played a significant role in helping the Yankees make it to the World Series for the first time since 1964. During the American League Championship Series against the Kansas City Royals, Thurman Munson excelled with a .435 batting average, three RBI, and three runs scored. In the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds, he continued his impressive performance with a .529 batting average, two RBI, and two runs scored.

Thurman Munson showed his heroics in crucial moments. During the 1978 American League Championship Series against the Kansas City Royals, he hit a crucial home run in the eighth inning when the score was tied 1-1. This powerful hit turned out to be the longest home run of his career, reaching an impressive distance of 475 feet. This homer secured a 6–5 victory for the Yankees. The ball soared over Monument Park in the left-center field of Yankee Stadium. In the 1977 World Series, Munson’s skills as a catcher shone as he managed to eliminate four out of the six runners on base from the fast-moving Los Angeles Dodgers.

When looking at the usual statistics, Thurman Munson achieved something remarkable. He became the first catcher to achieve 180 hits in four consecutive seasons. His batting average was among the top 10 in the league five times. During the years from 1975 to 1978, when the Yankees as a team had an average of.243, Munson’s performance stood out even more as he managed to hit.330 with two outs and runners on base.

Thurman Munson of the New York Yankees

Thurman Munson was so well-liked by his teammates that they chose him to be the captain of the team, a role that hadn’t been filled since Lou Gehrig. Hailing from Ohio, the resilient player approached every game with intensity as if it were the final game of the season. This attitude earned him the admiration and respect of his fellow teammates.

Throughout the 1970s, Thurman Munson ranked as one of the best three catchers in the entire Major League Baseball. He earned a spot on the All-Star team seven times, and his fellow players held him in high regard. Munson played a pivotal role in leading the Yankees to championship victories during that time.

Thurman Munson holds a unique distinction in Yankees history as the only player to have received both the Rookie of the Year Award and the American League Most Valuable Player Award.

He received the Gold Glove Award three times and was a prominent leader for his team. Thurman Munson was an extraordinary type of catcher, managing to maintain a batting average close to.300 every year despite the challenging physical and mental demands of his position. Remarkably, he never experienced injuries that required him to be placed on the disabled list throughout his 11-year career. He played through injuries and cuts to win for his beloved fans.

When Thurman Munson passed away, he had accumulated more hits over the previous ten years than any other catcher. He ranked among the top 10 batters in the American League five times. The catcher achieved the distinction of being the first catcher to attain 180 hits in four consecutive seasons, and he also achieved the feat of hitting .300 and driving in 100 runs in three consecutive seasons. Regarded as one of the best clutch hitters of his era, Thurman Munson had a remarkable.357 batting average in the postseason. He managed to secure a hit in 27 out of the 30 postseason games he participated in and maintained a hitting streak across 10 consecutive World Series games.

The unfortunate death 

On August 2, 1979, Thurman Munson, aged 32, tragically lost his life in a plane crash at the Canton-Akron airport. He was practicing a type of flying called “touch-and-go” landings in his new jet. This involves taking off, touching down briefly, and then taking off again. Unfortunately, something went terribly wrong during this practice, leading to the fatal accident. Thurman Munson was piloting the plane and had two friends with him. In a brave effort to save his friends, he flew the plane over a field to avoid more danger. However, while flying over the field, the plane’s left wing hit a tree stump. The impact caused the plane to crash and catch fire. The impact paralyzed him, and despite their best efforts, they were unable to remove him from the cockpit. They had no choice but to leave the plane in order to survive.

A Aug. 3, 1979 news telling about the death of Thurman Munson of the New York Yankees in a plane crash.

The news of Thurman Munson’s death spread quickly across all TV and radio stations in the United States, much like a bolt of lightning. Fans of baseball were reluctant to accept it, holding onto a glimmer of hope that it might be a misunderstanding or error. But as they continued to hear and see the repeated news updates, they had to come to terms with the painful truth of the tragedy.

Thurman Munson was greatly respected when he passed away, and as a mark of honor, flags were lowered to half-staff in New York and New Jersey by order of the state governors.

It is impossible to value Munson for the Yankees

It’s really hard to express how much Thurman Munson meant to the Yankees. He led two championship teams as their captain, was picked for the All-Star game seven times, won the Gold Glove award three times, and was named the AL MVP in 1976.

To understand just how amazing he was as a catcher, you only have to check out the 1971 season. He only made one error in that entire year, which occurred when a player hit him and knocked him out, causing the ball to come loose.

Apart from his successes on the field, Thurman Munson played a crucial role in keeping the locker room stable, especially during times when it was known for having its share of problems. The Yankees teams during the 1970s had players with strong and sometimes fiery personalities. Despite this, they managed to achieve a lot of success. Much of this success is credited to Thurman Munson and his skill in keeping the players level-headed and focused.

To honor their fallen hero, the Yankees took special steps. They not only retired Munson’s jersey number 15 but also left his locker in the clubhouse untouched, complete with his number 15 on it.

A plaque in Monument Park dedicated to Thurman Munson holds the words, “Our captain and leader has not left us.”

How do you feel about giving a tribute to the legend? Leave your comment below.

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9 thoughts on “A tribute to Thurman Munson: The captain who never left the Yankees

    1. True legend of the Yanks. Heartbreaking as a young fan when Munson passed. He will never be forgotten by the diehard fans. Nice they got a win on Wednesday, 8/2.

  1. Thurman Munson was my mom’s favorite Yankee. She admired the way he played and was devastated when he died. My first Yankees jersey was a #15. I wore that jersey until I grew out of it. He is still greatly missed. When I go to the Yankees museum at the Stadium, I make it a point to stop by his locker and say a prayer. Always and forever a Yankee #15 Thurman Munson

  2. As a diehard Yankee fan growing up in the Bronx, I admired Thurman Munson from his earliest rookie days.
    Great player, Captain, teammate & family man who will be forever missed.

  3. Would like to see special Hall of Fame Veterans Committee ballots to 2 former Yanke Captains not currently in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Thurman and also his successor Don Mattingly. Thurman passed and Donnie Baseball was befallen by injuries. Strong cases to be made for both.

  4. Thank you for writing this wonderful tribute. The Baseball Hall of Fame has a glaring omission…Thurman Munson!

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