Introducing… Thurman Munson

One of baseball’s tragic figures, Munson was an All-Star catcher with the New York Yankees who died in the middle of the 1979 season when a plane he piloted crashed.  When the top backstops of the 1970s are discussed, Munson’s name must be brought up with the likes of Bench, Fisk and Simmons.  Thurman was a seven-time All-Star and once gunned down 61% of would-be basestealers.  Munson’s career caught stealing percentage is ten points higher than Fisk’s.

An immediate star at the Major League level, the former first round draft pick won the American League Rookie of the Year Award in 1970.  As a rookie, Munson hit .302 and led AL receivers in doubles with 25.  His offensive numbers dipped in 1971 but he nevertheless made his first All-Star appearance thanks in part to leading AL catchers in runs scored and sniping a league best 61% of would-be basestealers.

His bat came back around in 1972 when he paced American League catchers in base hits with 143.  The following year, Munson was the only .300 hitting catcher in the junior circuit.  In that ’73 season, Thurman also topped American League catchers in runs and hits.  An All-Star again in ’73, Munson won the first of three straight Gold Glove Awards.  He also enjoyed his breakout season with the lumber by blasting 20 long balls–his finest single season output. 

Munson led American League catchers in RBI during the 1974 season and in 1975, he was the only AL catcher to reach 100 RBI.  His 190 base hits easily paced American League receivers as Gene Tenance finished second with just 127 safeties.  But for all his accomplishments, Thurman had yet to make postseason play.  The Yankees glory days of Berra, Ford and Mantle were over and the Bronx Bombers were trying to rebuild to make it to the playoffs in the mid 1970s.  They finally made it back in 1976.

Munson finished second in the American League with 105 RBI in 1976 as he led the Yankees to the postseason.  Munson, the only .300 hitting catcher in the Major Leagues, went on a tear in October.  He smacked around Kansas City pitching in the ALCS by hitting Royals pitchers at a .435 clip.  Although he roughed up KC hurlers, it was nothing compared to what he did to Cincinnati pitchers in the World Series.  Although the Yankees were losers, Thurman hit a robust .529.

Munson posted his third straight 100 RBI season in 1977 when he led Major League catchers with 183 base hits.  Although Thurman had established himself as a premier offensive catcher, he was still quite effective at gunning down thieves.  In ’77, he threw out 40% of would-be basestealers.  The Yankees made the playoffs again in 1977 and Thurman homered in the ALCS and batted .320 in a World Series victory over the Dodgers of Los Angeles.

During the 1978 season, Munson led Major League catchers with a .297 batting average but his power numbers were dried up.  He fell from 18 homers in ’77 to just six in 1978 and his slugging average nearly dropped 100 points.  Still a high average hitter, Munson took the Yankees back to the World Series in ’78 and hit .320 against the Dodgers again.  He knocked in seven runs in just six Fall Classic contests. 

In 1979, with Munson hitting .288, he piloted his private plane in early August.  Munson’s crash shocked the baseball world.  The Yankees, who had won three straight AL East pennants, fell to fourth place in 1979 as they lost their mainstay behind the plate.

THE NUMBERS

G 1,423/R 696/H 1,558/2B 229/3B 32/HR 113/RBI 701/SB 48/BB 438/SO 571/BA .292/SA .410/OBP .346

www.redsoxvyankees.com

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1 comment
  1. brettkiser said:

    Munson is one of baseball’s tragic figures given his untimely death courtesy plane accident. The Veteran’s Committee has been kind to tragic cases with Ross Youngs and Addie Joss making the HOF. Thurman, when he was at the top of his game, was right up there with Bench and Fisk, and might have been better, but his career was cut short. His HOF chances are quite strong, enhanced by his tragic death and pinstripes.

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