The news of Thurman Munson's death was delivered by a blazered, bland newsman at six o'clock or perhaps via a scratchy
transistor radio. The news, as so often seems the case when one dies so young, seemed surreal. Munson, practicing takeoffs and landings, had landed short of the runway and crashed into a massive stump. The plane's two other occupants had survived the crash, had been unable to retrieve a badly hurt Munson from a smoke-filled cockpit. His last words had been " Are you guys okay?" The Yankee captain died so unnecessarily, yet so bravely- and that seemed fitting.
It had been a difficult season for the Yankees; there would be no late-summer reprieves for this team. Age and injuries,the
old prosaic forms of second-tier ballclubs, had taken their toll. But with Munson's death, the glorious past of the New York Yankees, was recalled. The names of Yankee greats, dead or alive, were invoked: Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Ford, McCarthy. Ruth's bombastic aplomb, Gehrig's metronomic efficiency, DiMaggio's bullfighterly elan in center; Munson's everyman, dirt-smudged pugnacity and will to win commingled with their god-like attributes in the pantheon.
The news of Munson's death was greeted with an outpouring of emotion in the baseball world; his teammates were stricken.
Before the age of the manufactured pathos of twenty-four hour news cycles and Sportscenter updates; the emotions seemed real. Munson's nemesis, Reggie Jackson stood in right-field in tears the night after Munson's death. Lou Piniella and Bobby Murcer, Munson's best friends on the team, delivered poignant eulogies. It was an aging Murcer, who'd spent a fine career playing in Mantle's gargantuan shadow, who would deliver all five RBIs in a stirring Monday night win over the Orioles less than a week after his death. Howard Cosell's overweening palaver aside,it was a fitting tribute to Munson's life and work ethic, an improbable, gritty come-from-behind triumph.