Life and career
Born in Akron, Ohio to Darrell Vernon Munson and Ruth Myrna Smylie, Thurman grew up in nearby Canton. He graduated from Lehman High School in Canton, where he earned scholarship offers from various colleges due to his standout performances in football, basketball, as well as baseball; Munson opted to attend nearby Kent State University on scholarship, where he was a teammate of pitcher and broadcaster Steve Stone. At Kent, Munson joined the Delta Upsilon fraternity. In September 1968 he married Diane Dominick at St. Paul's Parish, Canton.
In the summer of 1967, Munson joined the prestigious Cape Cod Baseball League leading his Chatham A's (www.chathamas.com) to their first ever league title. In the process Munson hit an amazing .420. To recognize this achievement and his subsequent MLB career, the Thurman Munson Batting award is given each season to the CCBL's best hitter.
Munson was selected by the Yankees with the fourth pick in the first round of the 1968 amateur draft. In the minor leagues, he caught for the Binghamton Triplets in their final (1968) season. He was named the American League Rookie of the Year in 1970 after batting .302 with seven home runs and 57 RBI, and making 80 assists. In 1976, he was voted the American League MVP after batting .302 with 17 home runs and 105 RBI, and stealing 14 bases. He is the only Yankee ever to win both the Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player awards.
An outstanding fielder, Munson made only one error while behind the plate in 1971 (he was knocked unconscious by a runner, dislodging the ball). He went on to win three straight Gold Glove Awards starting in 1973. A seven-time All-Star, Munson hit 113 home runs, batted in 701 runners, and had a career batting average of .292 over his 10-year career. He was also the first captain named by the Yankees since Lou Gehrig. Munson helped lead his team to three consecutive World Series (1976–78), where he batted a remarkable .373 overall (.339 in the American League Championship Series). From 1975-77, Munson hit .300 or better with 100 or more RBI each year, becoming the first catcher to accomplish the feat in three consecutive years since Yankee Hall of Famer Bill Dickey did it four straight seasons from 1936-39. Since Munson's run, Mike Piazza has also accomplished it (1996-98).
In the 1976 World Series, Munson batted .529 and collected six consecutive hits to tie a World Series record set by Goose Goslin of the Washington Senators in 1925, (also in a losing effort). After this hitting performance, which included a 4-for-4 night in the final game at Yankee Stadium, Reds manager Sparky Anderson was asked by a reporter to compare Munson with his catcher, future Hall of Famer Johnny Bench. Anderson's comment at the post-World Series press conference — "Don't ever embarrass nobody by comparing him to Johnny Bench" — may have been a tribute to his great player, but it angered Munson.
Munson also maintained a feud with the other top catcher in the American League in the 1970s, Carlton Fisk of the Boston Red Sox. Fisk's ability to play until he was 45 years old (despite missing time in many seasons due to injuries) allowed him to build up career statistics that far exceeded Munson's. Many of those numbers came while Fisk was with the Chicago White Sox.
Munson batted .320 with a home run in the 1977 World Series, in which the Yankees defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers four games to two. In Game 3 of the 1978 American League Championship Series, with the Yankees tied a game apiece with the Kansas City Royals and trailing 5-4 in the bottom of the eighth inning, he hit the longest home run of his career, a 475-foot (145-meter) shot off Doug Bird over Yankee Stadium's Monument Park in left-center field, to give the Yankees a 6-5 win. They won the pennant the next day, and in the World Series against the Dodgers, Munson caught a pop-up by Ron Cey for the final out.
 Death and legacy
Munson was frequently homesick, and took flying lessons so that he could fly home to his family in Canton on off-days. On August 2, 1979, he was practicing takeoffs and landings in his new Cessna Citation I/SP jet at the Akron-Canton Regional Airport. On the third touch-and-go, Munson failed to lower the flaps for landing and allowed the aircraft to sink too low before increasing engine power, causing the jet to clip a tree and fall short of the runway. The plane then hit a tree stump and burst into flames, killing Munson (who was trapped inside) and injuring two other companions. It is believed that the inability to get out of the plane, and the ensuing asphyxiation, is what killed Munson, rather than injuries sustained on impact or burns (the two passengers survived). He was 32 years old.
Munson's sudden death was major news across the nation and especially sorrowed the baseball community. Munson was survived by his wife, Diana, and their three children. The day after his death, before the start of the Yankees' four-game set with the Baltimore Orioles in the Bronx, the Yankees paid tribute to their deceased captain in a pre-game ceremony during which the starters stood at their defensive positions, save for the catcher's box, which remained empty. At the conclusion of Robert Merrill's musical selection, the fans (announced attendance 51,151) burst into a 10-minute standing ovation.
Carlton Fisk was stunned at the news of Munson's death. While the two were rivals both professionally and personally (partially due to the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry), Fisk was upset that something had happened to Munson.
Four days later, on August 6, the entire Yankee team attended his funeral in Canton, Ohio. Lou Piniella and Bobby Murcer, who were Munson's best friends as well as teammates, gave moving eulogies. That night (in front of a national viewing audience on ABC's Monday Night Baseball) the Yankees beat the Orioles 5-4 in New York, with Murcer driving in all five runs with a three-run home run in the seventh inning and a two-run single in the bottom of the ninth.
Immediately following Munson's death, Yankee owner George Steinbrenner announced that his uniform number 15 was being retired. On September 20, 1980, a plaque was dedicated in Munson's memory and placed in Monument Park. The plaque bears excerpts from an inscription composed by Steinbrenner and flashed on the Stadium scoreboard the day after his death:
|“||Our captain and leader has not left us, today, tomorrow, this year, next ... Our endeavors will reflect our love and admiration for him.||”|
To this day, despite a packed clubhouse, an empty locker to the right of Derek Jeter's, with Munson's number 15 on it, remains as a tribute to the Yankees' lost catcher. The original locker that Munson used, along with a bronzed set of his catching equipment, was donated to the Baseball Hall of Fame (Munson himself is not in the Hall, generally considered by most sportswriters to be a "borderline" candidate at best due to the brevity of his career). His number 15 is also displayed on the center field wall at Thurman Munson Stadium, a minor-league ballpark in Canton. Munson is buried at Canton's Sunset Hills Burial Park.
This post is courtesy of Wikapedia.