Thirty years have passed since Thurman Munson died in a plane crash. One can only speculate what would have transpired with respect to his baseball career if he had lived.
Hall of Fame
Most Yankees’ fans believe that Thurman would have been elected to the Hall of Fame. They cite Carlton Fisk and Gary Carter, who made the Hall of Fame primarily because they were catchers. There is no question that neither would have made it had they not been catchers.
Carlton Fisk, Gary Carter, and Thurman Munson
Carlton Fisk batted .269, with a .341 on base average and a .457 slugging average. Gary Carter batted .262, with a .335 on base average and a .439 slugging average. Thurman Munson batted .292, with a .346 on base average, and a .410 slugging average. All were fierce competitors who never gave an inch.
Fisk played most of his games at catcher, as did Munson, and although Carter played some games in the outfield early in his career, he also played almost exclusively behind the plate. But by 1979, at the age of 32, Munson’s knees were giving him trouble.
Move to the Outfield?
During the 1979 season, Munson often spoke about moving to the outfield or first base in 1980 because his knees could no longer take the constant bending. It is highly unlikely if Thurman stopped catching he would have made the Hall of Fame.
George Steinbrenner Was Willing to Trade Thurman
Thurman was weary of being away from his family in Ohio. He traveled home whenever he could, which was one reason he wanted a pilot’s license. In July, he spoke about retiring at the end of the1979 season. Thurman mentioned the possibility to George Steinbrenner prior to what would turn out to be his last road trip. Steinbrenner was sympathetic. He was Munson’s friend.
“Would it make any difference if we traded you to Cleveland like you always wanted?”
Thurman thought that it might. “If you got a deal for me with the Indians, maybe I’d consider playing a couple of more years.”
George Steinbrenner called Indians’ president, Gabe Paul, who had recently served in the same capacity with the Yankees. They agreed to work on a trade after the season.
The key phrase Munson uttered was, “…maybe I’d consider playing a couple of more years.” It is impossible to know what would have transpired, but it is highly likely that Munson would have been traded to the Indians, played one or two seasons, and then retired.
Thurman Wanted to be Near His Family
Yankees’ coach Elston Howard told reporters that Munson wanted to start a commercial commuter airline and was studying for a special license. Ellie also said that Munson want to stay as close to his family as possible. “That’s why he told me he was flying home on his own plane on off days. He just said, ‘Ellie, I want to see my family.’ That’s what he told me.”
Rookie of the Year, MVP, and a Great Competitor
Thurman Munson was the 1970 American League Rookie of the Year, and he was the 1976 American League Most Valuable Player. He was an excellent defensive catcher who got rid of the ball quickly, which helped to compensate for his average throwing arm. Although not a power hitter, Munson was a dangerous hitter who rose to the occasion.
The Yankees have had better catchers than Thurman Munson. Bill Dickey and Yogi were undoubtedly superior, and one can claim (although incorrectly) that Jorge Posada and Elston Howard were better, but none of the four was a greater competitor.
Dave Anderson. (1979, August 4). Face on the Scoreboard :Sports of The Times There Were Warnings Trade Talk with Gabe Paul. New York Times (1857-Current file),p. 13. Retrieved August 2, 2009, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 – 2006). (Document ID: 112044930).
By JIM NAUGHTON. (1979, August 3). Yankees’ Thurman Munson Killed Piloting His Own Small Jet in Ohio :Munson Killed in Accident Martin ‘Loved Him’ Munson’s Career Record. New York Times (1857-Current file),A1. Retrieved August 2, 2009, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 – 2006). (Document ID: 111734901).