Monday, August 02, 2010

Remembering on August 2nd

I'm not too bad with dates. Ask me about April 3rd and I'll smile. Birthdays? Anniversaries? Pretty good with those.

Sadly, I know bad dates also. March 17th. Yep. It's St. Patty's Day but I always remember something else then.

And August 2nd.


Thirty-one years ago today, we lost Thurman Munson. In so many ways, for my generation, despite the winning of the last 14 years, Thurman's presence still hangs over the Yankees.

Go to the new Stadium (if you can find an affordable ticket) and visit the museum. There you will find Munson's locker, transferred from the House that Ruth Built. Virtually everyone pauses to look at it. Fathers teach their sons (from me to Sean), and we "older" guys (it's all relevant) pause and remember the Captain.

The first time I saw the locker was in its original place.  I was on the tour of the old Stadium and you couldn't go anywhere near it, but there it was on the left side of the locker room, past Derek Jeter.  I got to look at it a few months later when I had a credential to cover a September game against the Blue Jays.  It was a special moment.

It's still right there for me. Four thirty in the afternoon. Channel five. The newsflash. The shock. A night later, meaningless baseball. The following Monday: the funeral, the eulogies (Lou Piniella and Bobby Murcer). That night: the nationally televised game against the first-place Orioles. The Bombers sleepwalking for six and a half innings, even with Ron Guidry on the mound.

The YES Network reminds us now what happened, and that's how current fans are learning. The Yankees win 5-4 thanks to Bobby Murcer, Thurman's dear friend. It's said that Tippy Martinez laid the ball in there for Bobby to get the game-winner. Whatever. For that night, things seemed to be righting themselves.

The 80's were rough though.  The Yankees did some winning, with a division title in 1980 and an American League pennant in 1981.  Then?  Nothing, and a lot of forgettable catchers as well. It took until 1993 before it appeared that the fog was lifting.

And good catching, in the person first of Joe Girardi (good, not great) and then Jorge Posada, who has become a fine addition to the line that ran from Bill Dickey to Yogi Berra to Elston Howard to Thurman Munson.

Munson was rough, as a player and as a teammate. Man he was good. I guess you could say three of his contemporaries are in the Hall of Fame (Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, and Gary Carter). I'll take Munson over Carter and Fisk, but Bench was a touch more complete so I'll put him first. Sadly, Thurman didn't quite hang around long enough to compile the numbers that the HOF voters want to see. He played only 12 years and, in reality, was probably going to be a DH (and perhaps the Indians' DH beginning in 1980).

Still, maybe one day the Veterans Committee will rethink it.

I can still see the mammoth home run against the Royals in the ALCS, and power was not his thing. The hitting machine against the Reds in the 76 World Series (that was the lone highlight for New York). The defense.

The player. The family man.

We pause here, August 2, 2010, to remember Thurman Munson.

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