Amazon Best of the Month, July 2009
: For Yankee fans, catcher Thurman Munson remains a sentimental standout among the storied lineup of George Steinbrenner’s late '70s Bronx Zoo dynasty of Yankee baseball, when the team made it to three consecutive World Series, winning in '77 and '78. Former Yankee Public Relations Director Marty Appel was the ghostwriter on Munson's autobiography, and now, three decades later, returns to his legendary subject in the biography, Munson: The Life and Death of a Yankee Captain
As a Yankee insider, Appel keeps Munson, "the heart and soul of a world championship team," in a mostly positive light, though he does reveal more sensational elements of Munson's troubled childhood in Canton, Ohio, where his emotionally abusive father criticized him right up to the end of his short life, even chewing out the casket at Munson's funeral. Appel documents Munson's career as a scholarship athlete at Kent State, his time in the Cape Cod league, and his quick ascension to the major leagues and the Yankees, where he won Rookie of the Year in 1970 and was eventually made team captain, the first player to hold the title since Lou Gehrig. His blue-collar work ethic and gruff but lovable demeanor made him an instant fan favorite (a shot of him making a tag at home plate was the first action photo used in a Topps baseball card). And during that Bronx Zoo era, gloriously depicted in Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bronx Is Burning, it was the down-to-earth Munson who balanced out (and butted heads with) his flashy teammate Reggie Jackson. After Jackson made his infamous "I'm the straw that stirs the drink" comments in a Sport magazine interview, Munson was asked if Jackson was quoted out of context. Munson's reply: "For three pages?"
Munson was only 32 when he was killed after the plane he was piloting crashed in Canton, Ohio, on August 2, 1979. Despite so many bitter memories of Ohio, it's where he ended up marrying and starting a family, and part of the reason he learned how to fly was to be able to increase visits to his family from New York. Even though he was a relatively inexperienced pilot, he quickly worked his way up from a two-piston engine to a jet. And pilot error was eventually cited as the reason for the crash, which occurred while practicing touch-and-go-landings. At the home-opener the day after his death, when No. 15 was retired, there was a ten-minute standing ovation in memory of the Yankee catcher. Munson was never inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, but Marty Appel's biography remains a fitting tribute. --Brad Thomas Parsons
Amazon Exclusive: Marty Appel on Why Munson Matters
Sports biographies can get a little nasty these days. Have a quick look at the covers of new books this year--a year in which I’m thrilled to see the publication of Munson
, my new biography of Thurman Munson, by the way--and you see the story. On the one hand, you see a classic shot of Thurman, the old-school catcher and Captain of the Bronx Zoo... And on the other, well, you get players linked to steroids.
There is the feeling, looking at that photo of Munson, that he represented something genuine and beautiful about baseball, and maybe something bigger--a respect for the profession, a pride in performance. Oh, how he played the game!
As Munson’s co-author on his autobiography more than 30 years ago, I have marveled at the enduring loyalty of his fans, and at the palpable emotion his image on the Yankee Stadium scoreboard still produces throughout the stands. The autobiography was an honor to write, but in my heart, I always felt there was much more to the story. Now, with the 30th anniversary of Thurman’s tragic death, the time was right to tell the whole story. He would have been okay with that, because I think he would be proud of his accomplishments off the field, and proud that they could be used as an example for others.
It’s a wonderful story. And, of course, a tragic one, too. It was Thurman’s devotion to his family that got him into aviation, all the better to get home and spend more time with his wife and kids. And ultimately, he just took on too much airplane for his fledgling abilities.
It’s my hope that Munson gives fans a definitive and intimate look at the man in full. I conducted about 150 interviews with his friends, teammates, and associates to examine his childhood, his illustrious career, and of course, the tragic crash that took his life--and the aftermath that made him a Yankee legend for the ages.
I know it’s unusual for the same author to revisit a subject 30 years apart, but when offered the opportunity to do this, I jumped at it. For Yankee fans, and all baseball fans, this is a look at the captain of those "Bronx Zoo," "Bronx Is Burning" teams and how he led by example. Munson is a story of redemption, of how one man turned his life around and became a role model not only for his gutsy play behind the plate, but for his life off the field.
Thurman wasn’t perfect. He was as flawed as we all are in some ways. But in the end, I think the reader will see him for what he was--a Yankee hero, with a life worth admiring. --Marty Appel
(Photo © Raquel Lauren)
Appel co-wrote New York Yankees catcher Thurman Munson's autobiography 30 years ago, and his stated goal here is to tell the story that didn't get told then. The revelations, however, are few. We learn, for example, that Munson grew up in Canton, Ohio, with a father whose coldness and resentment bordered on emotional abuse. (On the day Munson signed with the Yankees, his father openly criticized his playing skills to team executives; years later, he came to his son's funeral and taunted the closed casket.) There's also, naturally, much more information about the 1979 plane crash that ended Munson's life, including the transcript of a lengthy interview with one of the survivors; again, however, the conclusion that Munson was a relatively inexperienced pilot who made fatal errors in judgment is not a new one. Otherwise, Appel covers familiar territory, casting Munson as a journeyman ballplayer who inspired his teammates with his tenacious work ethic, but didn't get along with the press and couldn't stand Reggie Jackson or George Steinbrenner. Excerpts from several other baseball memoirs and transcripts from archival interviews with Munson extend the story, but do little to expand upon it. (July)
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