A Tribute To Thurman Munson
Sport holds a special place in all our lives. When life becomes overwhelming, or when you need a break from the daily grind, fandom of sport is something we can all fall back on. It serves as both a distraction, and catharsis. Watching our favorite athletes hit a home run, or make a spectacular diving catch allows us to escape from the monotony of our daily routine. Which is what makes losing a beloved athlete at such a young age that much more painful for us, the fans. And there were few athletes who were more revered and respected than the late Yankees captain, Thurman Munson. It’s been almost 43 years since the world lost Munson due to an airplane crash. And with the 2022 season underway, it seems fitting to pay tribute to a man who embodied the best of the sport both on and off the field.
One can’t earn the title of captain on personality alone. You have to excel at all areas of the game. Thurman Munson certainly did that during his time with the Yankees.
Offensively, Munson was a very well-rounded batter. He was a great contact hitter. His career batting average is a respectable .292, and in just over 1,100 games played, he tallied over 1,500 career hits. As a power hitter, Munson was never much of an elite home run hitter. Just once in his career did he hit 20 home runs in a season. But a lack of home runs didn’t stop Munson from being an elite run producer. In three seasons of his career, Munson drove in over 100 runs. In his 1976 MVP season, Munson totaled 105 RBIs, and batted third in the Yankee’s lineup. This season would also happen to be one of the three times Munson would reach the World Series in his career. He would win the trophy twice with New York.
As a catcher, being defensively skilled is just as important, if not more important than your talents on the offensive side of the ball. Munson certainly excelled in this aspect too. In a time where the catcher position was filled with superstars like Johnny Bench and Carlton Fisk, Munson out-shined them all. From 1973-1975, Munson won three straight Gold Gloves. He led the league in caught stealing percentage twice in his career. As a catcher, his career fielding percentage was an astounding .982. Those numbers put him in elite company not just for his era, but across all eras.
A captain is supposed to lead by example, off the field, and on the field. When looking at Munson’s career numbers, it is hard to argue that he was anything, but excellent in every facet of baseball.
Thurman Munson’s death didn’t just shake the world because he could hit the ball well and throw runners out. He was an admired figure across the league, especially to Yankees fans.
When Munson was named captain of the team in 1976, it was more than just a normal baseball procedure. Never mind the fact that being named captain has obvious weight to it, Munson became the first man to hold this title since the great Lou Gehrig. Munson didn’t think that he would be up to the task. He considered himself a curmudgeon who argued with umpires too much and didn’t sign enough autographs with the fans. But as people close to the team look back on his tenure, his gruff demeanor made him perfect for the job. His willingness to tell his teammates the truth, no matter how marsh, made him a great leader, even if he was a reluctant one.
As far as his life away from the field, Munson was an upstanding man. From 1968, until his death, Munson was married to a woman named Diana Dominick. According to people close to the couple, the two were childhood sweethearts whose love stretched all the way back to when they were in sixth grade. Together, the two had three children- Tracy, Kelly, and Michael. Some athletes when they reach fame become involved in scandals, rumors, and even legal trouble. But
in their entire marriage, Munson never even sniffed a news headline. Unless of course, it was for his work on the field.
It is extremely difficult to capture the essence of someone who had such importance to not only a franchise, but an entire sport. Yet looking back on the life of Thurman Munson, it’s hard to wonder whether this piece would have been too soppy for him. After all, this was a man who pinch-hit the day after he got knocked unconscious by a collision at the plate. This man was someone who despite playing in New York, had the media personality of a cactus. So if I had to summarize this great man in a single phrase, it would probably be the same thing that is written on his headstone: “Thurman Munson, Captain of the New York Yankees”.