Friday, July 31, 2009

Remembering The Captain

We'll take a brief respite from the trade dealine madness to remember what is likely the most tragic day in Yankee history. Sunday marks the thirty year anniversary of the death of Thurman Munson.

As we counted down to Spring Training, Jay had a great look back at Munson. That was before my time at Fack Youk, and as we approach this sad anniversary I wanted to offer my own remembrance. Despite his passing more than thirteen months before I was born, Munson has long been one of my favorite Yankees. I suppose it stems from my father; with the possible exception of Mickey Mantle, Munson is his all-time favorite.

As I grew interested in baseball, it was of course my father who taught me about baseball history and about Yankee history, and of course, there was the obligatory Munson lesson. At some point in my youth I inherited the #15 Yankee t-shirt my father had outgrown. Age and wear and tear eventually rendered that shirt unwearable, but a Munson shirt I purchased in Cooperstown some years ago remains my shirt of choice when venturing to the Bronx.

One of the first games I can recall going to was shortly after the tenth anniversary of Munson's death. I can recall visiting his plaque in Monument Park that day, as well as receiving the commemorative issue of Yankees Magazine that I read until it fell apart. A few years later I came upon Munson's autobiography, co-authored by Marty Appel, and read that one over and over. I recently completed Appel's comprehensive Munson biography. I have mixed feelings about the book - and may well review it here at some point - but by default it has to be considered the definitive work on Munson and I would recommend it to anyone wanting to know more about him.

What is it about Munson that makes him so beloved thirty years after he last played? Certainly his untimely demise plays into it, as his does his role as the face of the Yankees during the most colorful period of their history. A Rookie of the Year award, MVP award, three Gold Gloves awards, three pennants, and two World Championships certainly help too, as does serving as the first Yankee Captain since Lou Gehrig.

But more than that, I think there was something inherently likeable about Munson. Despite his midwestern roots and sensibilities, his personality was also sarcastic and confident enough to endear him to New York fans. His squatty, unathletic-looking build made him appear as a scrappy over-achiever, despite his natural talents. He perpetually played hurt, and despite the madness of the Bronx Zoo years, Munson usually managed to stay above the fray. He was the face of the franchise as they emerged from the worst stretch of their post-deadball history back to being a championship club.

But those are just my impressions looking back on a player I wasn't lucky enough to see. So what do you say Fackers? For those of you who saw him play, what are your memories of The Captain?

(I know I'm breaking our black and white image policy,
but I love the orange catcher's gear)

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