It’s hard to believe that it has been 35 years since the world found out about Thurman Munson‘s tragic death.
It was in the midst of the season, Munson was in his prime and the news was so shocking and jarring that grown men all over the New York area and beyond were beside themselves with grief. The captain of the Yankees was gone. His life snuffed out by smoke and flames in a plane crash in Ohio.
I was a few weeks shy of my 5th birthday in early August 1979 but I clearly remember the look on my dad’s face when he found out about Munson’s death. The next time I saw a look that was even remotely similar on his face was when he came home from escaping the chaos in lower Manhattan on 9/11. He just sat down, stunned, not believing the news.
How could Munson be dead? Was it real? I think that was everyone’s reaction. First you’re stunned and then you grieve the loss.
And even though it has been 35 years since that awful day, it’s still hard to believe that it actually happened but Yankee fans are reminded every time they go to Monument Park and see Munson’s #15 amongst the other retired numbers. They’re reminded every Old Timer’s Day when Diana Munson leads the parade of Yankee widows to home plate during the player introductions. It makes us think of how 67 year-old Thurman Munson would have looked – would he still have the mustache? Or how he would have interacted with the other Old Timer’s – would he be joking around with Reggie Jackson, Goose Gossage and the other guys from the late 1970s teams? And it makes us wonder what kind of relationship he would have had with the current players. Would he be like his teammate Gossage and complaining about how things are done now compared to the 1970s? Would he be gushing about certain players? Maybe Munson would have been a Spring Training instructor and working with the younger catchers. Maybe he could have been a mentor to Jorge Posada in the 90s?
There are so many possibilities to think about but sadly they’re only are in our minds because that plane crash robbed us all that day.
I think of his family on this day, knowing that the pain of his loss is still with them. How could it not be? He wasn’t sick or battling a dreadful disease, he died in the prime of his life.
I’d also like to think that if there is a place where we all go after we leave this world that Munson is with Bobby Murcer, Billy Martin, George Steinbrenner and other Yankee personalities from that era, hanging out and yelling about how the current Yankees can’t score worth a damn.
Here’s a clip of Murcer’s eulogy to his friend.