BRONX, NY – It was August 2, 1979 at around 4 p.m. when tragedy struck. New York Yankees catcher Thurman Munson, was killed in a plane crash… The same private plane that he was piloting. For Yankees fans, especially us young ones, the loss of our great captain was devasting.
With no internet available at the time the only updated information came from dialing 900-976-1313, which was the phone number for Sports Phone. It gave updates every thirty minutes as we waited for the 6 p.m. news to give us details.
Munson, who was the 1970 Rookie of the Year and 1976 Most Valuable Player also contributed to two World Series Championships. For us New Yorkers, The Captain was more than that.
He juggled his career with his family, missing them to a point where he purchased the Cessna Citation, which led to his death. On the field he was the definition of guts and glory. Off the field he visited children in need, often bringing the batboy, Ray Negron, with him. They would then go to the McDonald’s across the street from The Stadium for his two “cheesies.” There he would mingle with his fans, who saw another side of the fiery leader.
In the clubhouse he would talk trash to the centerfielder Mickey Rivers and Rivers would acknowledge him with the moniker “Doughboy.” When newly acquired reliever Rich “Goose” Gossage got off to a rough start, Munson would stroll to the mound and ask him, “So how are you gonna f*ck this one up?” Goose would reply, “I don’t know, so get your fat ass back to your position and we’ll find out.” Munson would respond with his Curly from the Three Stooges laugh.
The three premiere clutch hitters of that time were Reggie Jackson, George Brett, and Thurman. His runs batted in were always produced during the game’s prime time. His beat up body would always crouch behind the plate behind his orange chest protector. Munson was New York’s badass!
His tragic death fast-forwarded every New York youth through puberty and taught us that no one is invincible. He was only 32 years young and left behind a wife, Diana, and three kids, Michael, Kelly and Tracy.
We all grew up that August 2nd day – 43 years ago – when our Captain was taken from us. Every athlete, either pro or semi-pro, goes through the grind of bruises and pain. Thurman taught us all to stop bitching and just be a baller.
That’s it for me, come back tomorrow for Different Matt. Speaking of different…