This part of The Deadball Era
is dedicated to the memory of my all-time favorite player, Thurman Munson, Captain
of the New York Yankees. Right before the start of the 1969 season, my father,
Frank, Sr., who was a life long Yankee fan, was really excited about this "new
kid" that the Yankees had drafted #1 the previous year. My dad thought that
this "kid" was a lock to make it big with the Bombers. In August of
1969, my dad read a blurb in a newspaper that "the Kid" had been recalled
from the Minors. There was going to be a twi-night doubleheader the next day with
the Oakland A's. If we were lucky, maybe we would get a glimpse of the rookie.
Well, we had to settle
for going to the second game, because my dad had to work and couldn't close our
family owned business until about 6 o'clock. It worked out perfectly! Thurman
was announced as the catcher in the starting lineup for the second game. I immediately
took a liking to him. He was quick, agile, could run fast. He had pop in his bat
and also, my Dad pointed out to me, he had a little "swagger" to him.
He was definitely confident. We saw him get his first major league hit against
Catfish Hunter in the 7th and his first 2 RBI's in the eighth! Both clean singles!
Not a bad debut! On the way home my Dad told me to watch "how that kid plays,"
and "that's the way you want to play the game." I always trusted my
dad's judgment, so right then and there, I adopted him as my favorite player.
And he has continued to be my favorite player ever since.
I can honestly say that he was a player that I truly loved and admired. His death,
on August 2nd, 1979, was truly one of the saddest days of my life. I had learned
to admire him, not just for his skill and talent as a ballplayer. Any athlete
can have talent. (Does Albert Belle come to mind?) It was his human qualities
that I really admired. He had integrity. He was stoic. A leader of men who didn't
have to tell people to follow him, they just did.
And I loved reading about his caustic sense of humor. And
of course, any person who could stand up to some of the ridiculous questions that
spewed forth from the New York sportswriters was Number #1 in my book.
I met my hero in late 1976. He was making a personal appearance
at a fast food restaurant in my home town of East Brunswick, NJ. I was 17 then,
a senior in High School, and I had just gotten my driver's license. I didn't even
know Thurman would be there until a friend of mine called me up and told me about
it. By that time, I had only about 15 minutes to get there if I wanted to meet
him! I drove like a bat out of hell! Somehow I did get there....just as Thurman
was leaving! I jumped out of my car and made a mad dash for the car he was in!
You could tell right away I was a fan. I had my Yankee cap on, and a Yankee sweat
shirt with a number 15 that I had my Mom sew on for me! Well to make a long story
short, I never made it to the car. I fell! Hard!
I had stepped in a pothole in the parking lot and was so focused on what I was
doing I didn't see it!
Bam! I fell like a brick! I just sort of rolled
over and sat there, holding my elbow, and feeling really stupid, tears starting
to well up in my eyes, partly because of the pain I was in and partly that I
embarrassed myself in front of everyone. It didn't help that I had apparently
missed my only chance to meet my hero. Well, the
next thing I knew, I looked up and there, leaning over me was Thurman Munson!
I mean, Wow! He had seen me fall and stopped to see if I was OK! He asked me
if I was all right and I nodded. I picked myself up and proceeded to ramble
on about how he was my favorite ball player and how I had been rooting for him
since he came into the league. I told him how much my Dad had liked him too,
and how we had gone to see him in his first game. He asked me about my Dad and
I told him that he had died when I was twelve. He told me that he was sorry
and asked me my name. After a couple of minutes, he told me it was time for
him to go because he was already running late. I asked him for his autograph
which he had no problem with.
I hobbled back to my car to get a baseball I had
brought! Whoops, unfortunately for me, I left the ball home, but I did have
a note pad, part of my school stationery, so I settled for that! (I sure wish
I hadn't forgotten that ball) As he was signing the paper I still couldn't believe
how lucky I was and I wished my dad could have been there. He handed me back
the notepad and we shook hands as I thanked him for the autograph. He told me
to "take care of that elbow" as he got back into the car. I shouted
to him "thanks again" and he drove off! What a guy! When I went to
school the following Monday I showed off the autograph to everybody!
Then there was the time when
Sparky Anderson disrespected Thurman in the Reds locker room before a national
TV audience after the 1976 World Series. He was asked by a reporter how Thurman
compared to Johnny Bench, who, incidentally, Thurman was friendly with, Anderson
replied "Please, don't embarrass any catcher by comparing him to Johnny Bench."
Oh, was I furious! I immediately fired off a letter to The Cincinnati Reds, stating
my complete anger at Anderson's comment! I never did get a reply back!
When the "feud" between Thurman and Reggie Jackson
started, I of course, was on the side of my hero! When Red Sox fans gave me grief
about Carlton Fisk being better, it was paramount to war for me! No one ever dared
say anything bad about Thurman in front of me.
He was always the one I would turn the TV on to see
his at bats. He was the one I cheered for when he came through in the
clutch! He was the one I admired when I saw him playing injured, in obvious
pain, but always getting to that foul pop or wild pitch!! He was the one
for whom I cried my eyes out when I heard the news of his death. To this
day, it still brings tears to my eyes when I think of it!
That is why I have dedicated this part of the site
to my hero! He was as special to me as Babe and Lou and Teddy Ballgame
and Joe D. were to another generation of fans! I'm proud to say that he
was my hero! In my heart, Thurman Munson will never die!