Wednesday, December 28, 2011

DAHOF Top 100 -- #77 Thurman Muson

On August 2nd, 1979 a Cessna Citation jet crashed while practicing 'touch & go' landings at Ohio's Akron-Canton Regional Airport. The two passengers of the plane survived the crash and escaped, while the pilot did not. That pilot was Yankee Captain Thurman Munson. He was 32.

Thurman Munson played for the New York Yankees for 11 years after being drafted in the 1st round (4th overall pick) out of Kent State. He made his big league debut in 1969, but did not gather up enough plate appearances to lose his rookie status. The next season (1970) he won the American League Rookie of the Year award when he batted a .302.

I am not a Yankee fan by any stretch of the imagination, but even as a child I recognized and respected Thurman Munson. His intense attitude and natural leadership skills earned him the position of team captain. This was a real honor because he was the first Yankee to be named captain since the great Lou Gehrig.

During his short career he earned three Gold Gloves, made seven All-Star teams, and was named the American League's most valuable player in 1976. In the three seasons prior to his death, he led the Yankees to three American League pennants and two World Championships. After Thurman died, it would be another 18 years before they would win another World Series title.

Yankee owner George Steinbrenner retired Munson's number 15 immediately upon his catcher's death. The entire Yankees team attended his funeral in Ohio before returning to Yankee Stadium to play the Orioles in a nationally televised game. One of Munson's best friends, Bobby Murcer drove in all 5 runs of the Yankees 5-4 win. His locker remained empty until Yankee Stadium was demolished following the 2008 season.


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