Thurman Munson: The Yankees’ legendary captain who died in a plane crash

Thurman Munson

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George Steinbrenner‘s Yankees dream won’t be the same without having Thurman Munson on his team. He took over the team in 1973. The Yankees had not had a World Series win since 1962 and they hadn’t been to the World Series since 1964. The Boss wanted to build a team that could put a break on that long time for a team that is used to winning titles. Thurman Munson was a big reason why the team came back to life.

In 1976, George selected Thurman Munson as the Yankees’ captain, the first since Lou Gehrig. The catcher went on to win the AL Most Valuable Player Award the same year. “The heart and soul of the Yankees” hit .528, .320, and .320 in the World Series of 1976, 1977, and 1978, respectively. From 1976 to 1978, he took the Yankees to the World Series every year, and in the last two of those years, they won. Thurman Munson was an All-Star seven times in his 10-year MLB career, but he died in a plane crash on August 2, 1979. He was only 32 years old.

Thurman Munson held the Yankees’ pitching staff together during those championship years that finally ended their title-less journey. Everyone on those teams loved how fiercely he competed. His greatness can’t just be measured by his batting average and the number of home runs he hits. Without him, the Yankees wouldn’t win those pennants and championships.

Thurman Munson’s stats were impressive. He lived a long time. 292 batting average. In 1970, when he was the Rookie of the Year, he hit .302. In 1973, 1974, and 1975, he won Gold Gloves. He had 113 home runs and 701 RBI in his career.

The seven-time All-Star was also named MVP in 1976 after taking over the command of the Yankees. He hit over .300 for three straight years, from 1975 to 1977. But Thurman Munson was at his best in the playoffs. He hit .373 in 16 World Series starts and had a career average of .357 in the playoffs.

Thurman Munson was named the first Yankees team captain since Lou Gehrig left the team in 1939. This was for the start of the 1976 season. He responded by hitting .302 with 17 home runs and 105 RBI, which earned him the Most Valuable Player Award in the American League and helped the Yankees reach the World Series for the first time since 1964. In the American League Championship Series against the Kansas City Royals, Thurman Munson hit .435 with three RBI and three runs scored. In the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds, he hit .529 with two RBI and two runs scored.

And Munson did heroic things when it mattered the most. In the 1978 American League Championship series against the Kansas City Royals, he hit a home run in the eighth inning to break a 1-1 tie. Thurman Munson hit the longest home run of his career, which gave the Yankees a 6–5 win. It was a 475-foot (145 m) shot off Doug Bird that went over Monument Park in left-center field at Yankee Stadium. In the 1977 World Series, the Yankees’ catcher got rid of four of the six runners on base for the fast-moving Los Angeles Dodgers.

In terms of more traditional stats, Thurman Munson was the first catcher to get 180 hits in each of four straight seasons. He had a batting average that was in the top 10 five times. From 1975 to 1978, when the Yankees hit .243, he hit .330 with two outs and runners on base.

The other players liked him so much that they made Thurman Munson captain of the team. He was the first captain since Lou Gehrig. Munson, who was from Ohio, was a tough player who treated every game like it was the last one of the season. It got him the respect of his teammates.

During the 1970s, Thurman Munson was among the top three catchers in major league baseball. He was named to seven all-star teams, respected by his peers, and was the driver of the Yankee championship teams of that era.

Thurman Munson is the only Yankee player to win both the Rookie of the Year Award and the American League Most Valuable Player Award.

The Yankees’ catcher won the Gold Glove three times and was the clear leader of his team. He was a very special kind of catcher—one who, despite the physical and mental demands of the job, still managed to finish each year with a batting average close to .300. Munson never went on the disabled list in his 11-year career.

At the time of his death, Thurman Munson had more hits than any other catcher in the last ten years. Five times, Munson was one of the top 10 batters in the American League. He was the first catcher to have 180 hits in four straight seasons, and he hit in three straight seasons .300 and drove in 100 runs. The catcher may have been the best clutch hitter of his generation, as he hit .357 in the postseason. He got a hit in 27 of the 30 postseason games he played and hits in 10 straight world series games.

George’s tribute to Thurman Munson

The Yankees’ owner, George Steinbrenner, took Munson’s number 15 off the roster after the captain died. On September 20, 1980, a plaque was put up in Monument Park to honor the legendary player. On the plaque are parts of an inscription that Steinbrenner wrote and that was shown on the scoreboard the day after Thurman Munson died:

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

Thurman Munson’s locker and a bronzed set of his catching equipment were given to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Even though the clubhouse was full, Munson’s last locker spot was never moved. His number 15, which was on the locker next to Derek Jeter‘s, stayed there as a tribute to the Yankees’ late catcher until the original Yankee Stadium closed in 2008.

How do you rate Munson as a legendary Yankee? Leave your comment below.

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