It was a hot day the way I remember it. Not as hot maybe as it is today, but it was hot. I was at my friends house, hanging out with a few other friends. I was 15 years old. The Yankees had one of the best teams they ever put together, and they meant more to me than almost anything in my life at that time. They were a VERY special group to me. I had baseballs at home with ALL their signatures on them. Some singles, some with the whole team, some with 5 or 6 of the players, scribed with sayings like "to a chip off the old blockhead – your Dads kinda ugly, but your alright" #15 – Thurman Munson.
My Father was a drunk. He isn’t any more, he has been sober for years now. But most children of alcoholics look back at horror stories of their parents. I had my share of them too, but my Father was a HAPPY DRUNK, and very well liked. He hung out in a bar called "The Orangeburg Pub" back then, quite often. So did the players after games! So he brought me a few times. Sometimes we would stop on the way home from a game. The first time, I was BLOWN AWAY. I walked in, and there are all of my idols, sitting around having beers, waving ME and my FATHER over. Thurman Munson. Catfish Hunter. Sparky Lyle. etc….
I don’t have any of the balls I got signed over the years, or any of the programs or shirts or my old glove with all the sigs. My house burned down in the early 80s, and all that stuff with it. I don’t remember what the last day was that I went with my Dad to The Orangeburg Pub, or what day was his last trip. But I know neither one of us ever went again after August 2nd, 1979.
Back to that hot day with my friends, we were just hangin out, not doing much. It was too hot to play ball, we were probably just talking about girls, or how much disco ******, or how our sideburns were coming in. Or maybe we were talking about the racial tension that seemed to be back in NY the worse I had seen since the first year they did bussing. I don’t really know what we were talking about. I do know we had the radio on, but not what song had just finished. It was Probably Pink Floyd: Another brick in the wall Part 2. That song was on pretty much around the clock then. I can’t even recall exactly what the guy on the radio said, but it didn’t much matter how he said it. The message was very clear.
Thurman Munson had crashed in his plane on landing, and was killed. Thurman Munson was dead! Our Yankee Captain! The best player I knew of in my generation. Dead! This can’t be! Gotta be some sick joke WPLJ was playing on us! Turn on a news or sports channel! We switched over to AM, it didn’t take much scanning on the dial to find someone else talking about it. We just stood there looking at the radio, or the ground. There were no Mets fans among us, and certainly no fans of any other teams. Every one of us in that group had lived in the Bronx (although at that point we all lived in Westchester). We bled Pinstripes. It was different back then, too. We all played baseball growing up, watched it whenever we could, and went to games all the time. We all went with our parents, and we went on our own when we could get a few bucks together for a bleacher ticket. I think it was like $1.50 back then. $5.00 would get us TO the game, into the game, a soda, and home.
We lived and breathed baseball. Not on video games, we actually played the real game. Along with stickball, stoopball, run the bases, wiffle ball, and half ball. If it was anything LIKE baseball, we played it. Kids today, I am sad to say, are different. My own Son knows the players from playing on Playstation. Not from watching the games, having baseball cards, or going to games.
So when I say we were DEEPLY affected by this, I mean it. My Son could never understand this. He’d be upset, or shocked if it happened to a current player, but it wouldn’t do what it did to us, or at least, to me. When my Father came home, he had tears in his eyes when he saw me. That was the second time I ever saw my Father cry. The first time was when his Father died. I was upset with my friends, we were all upset. We got depressed talking about it, and decided to all go home. But when I saw my Father, thats when the tears flowed. We weren’t real close any more, to be honest. But this was a tragedy, and Family Tragedies always bring Family back together, at least for a little while. It was like a dream, but it was real, too real. This was a great man! I know "cmon, he was a ball player". NOT TO ME. And ask any Yankee that played with him if he was "just a ball player". Take a look at the video here that Guidry did, talking about Thurm on the anniversary of his death.
Thurman Munsons last words: "Are you guys okay?". The following is from a story in the Daily News, published July 4, 2004 read the whole story HERE. It’s worth reading!
He was also a hero in the last moments of his
life, says Jerry Anderson, who survived the crash and believes he owes
his life to Munson’s poise and tenacity.
"He flew that plane right to the ground," Anderson says. "He never gave
up. The same attitude that he took to the plate in the ninth inning of
a 3-3 game is what saved my life."
I wish I could express my feelings better with words. I wish I was a better writer, at least for this one story. I go to Yankee Games still to this day, almost always wearing a #15 jersey. I have other players jerseys, but they don’t mean anything more than just a Yankee Shirt. Just like wearing a Giants Jersey, no big deal, I am just showing my favorite teams. NOT when I put on a #15 Jersey though. That’s a tribute to the man, not the team. Thurman probably would have resented that.
Cap, you will never be forgotten, just like it says on your plaque in Memorial Park.