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Munson: The Life and Death of a Yankee Captain Hardcover – July 7, 2009

4.7 out of 5 stars 60 customer reviews

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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)

From Publishers Weekly

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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Heart of the Yankees
Read the first chapter of Marty Appel's Munson [PDF].

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; First Edition edition (July 7, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385522312
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385522311
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.4 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,174,718 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
When I was a youngster, I was a huge fan of Thurman Munson.

To this day, if I close my eyes, I can quickly remember the feeling of sitting in Yankee Stadium, as a 13-year old, with my father, watching the Yankees play with Munson at bat and runners on base.

During these moments, my heart would race - where it felt like it was about to jump out of my chest (because it was beating so hard and fast). Why? Because I wanted Thurman to come through...as he was "my guy."

And, more times than not, Munson did the job.

It's been so many years, but, in this memory, I can still see Munson slapping a line drive into right field, as if he was picking the ball out of opposing catcher's mitt with his bat, waiting until the last minute to go the other way with the pitch, with Yankees runners rounding third and coming home to score...man, talk about pure exhilaration...that was it.

Being such a Munson fan, I was (and still am) very interested in learning more about him. And, for the last three decades or so, I've been waiting for the ultimate book covering the entire story of Thurman Munson.

Now, thanks to Marty Appel, with his new book "Munson: The Life and Death of a Yankee Captain," we have what I have been waiting for...all these years. With this book Appel provides us with the complete account of Thurman Munson's life and untimely passing...with no holds barred.

With this work, we get to see the many facets of Munson's life: Thurman as a ball player, a friend, the family man and a real estate entrepreneur. And, we get to see the good and the bad sides of the man.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is author Marty Appel's second Thurman Munson biography. The first biography was written in 1977 two years before Munson's tragic death... and Munson's verbal response to the original proposal was: "Who writes a biography when you're twenty-nine-years-old?" After Munson was laid to rest... his wonderful wife Diane thanked Marty for what turned out to be such a special keepsake for the family for years to come. As we approach the thirtieth anniversary of the August 2, 1979 crash of Thurman's personal jet that he himself was piloting... the author felt it was time to unseal the mysterious pieces to the puzzle that was Munson... that wasn't covered in the first biography. There were boundaries in the original biography that the author wasn't allowed to cross or investigate. Most baseball fans when they thought of Munson as a person... saw a scruffy... stocky... moody... walrus mustachioed... distant personality... who hated and mostly ignored the media. They also saw a guy that represented the everyday hardworking average American Joe. Not your handsome... strapping... Mickey Mantle type image. And as a player... any baseball fan that knew which end of a baseball bat was up... saw... a player that would never quit... a player that was the leader on the field... one of the best clutch hitters of his era... one of the best fielding catchers in the big leagues until injuries starting tearing him down. Nowadays these multi-million-dollar players sit out a game with a hang nail. All the Yankee players knew that if Thurman could hobble... he would play... so they knew they couldn't wimp out. When Munson heard a teammate complain about an injury he would say... "SO, RETIRE!" That's what defines a leader... and because of those qualities...Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
Much has been written about the turbulent period of New York Yankees baseball that many have referred to as the Reggie Jackson Era. While Jackson was the self-proclaimed "straw that stirs the Yankees drink", Thurman Munson may well have been the cocktail napkin that kept the drink from making a mess on that nice coffee table. He was the much needed quiet, stablizing force on the field and in the clubhouse; he didn't like disruption. He didn't like Jackson or George Steinbrenner, for that matter. Thurman Munson just wanted to play ball; forget the soap opera that was Yankees baseball. Just play the game the way it was meant to be played - hard.

It's been over thirty years since Thurman Munson died in that plane crash, and not much has been written about him that reveals very much about his personality, probably since he made it a point to speak rarely, while carrying a steady stick. Nothing much stands out about his demeanor that would cause much of a stir; especially three decades after his passing. Marty Appel provides a thorough, workman-like perspective on this blue collar Yankees captain.

In the end, Munson played the game hard; the way it was meant to be played. While others grabbed the headlines, he grabbed his gear and his bat, and went about his business of keeping his team on top of their game. Whatever he did worked quite well for over a decade. That's not a bad legacy for such a quiet man.
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Format: Hardcover
As a NY Yankee fan for many years, and being that Thurman Munson was my favorite player I was very interested in this book. The book was an easy read and an enjoyable journey through Thurman's life, both personal and professional. It showed great insight by his fellow teammates and friends and family on his life. It is a book that can be enjoyed by any baseball fan
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