Munson: The Life and Death of a Yankee Captain

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9780385522311: Munson: The Life and Death of a Yankee Captain

Our captain and leader has not left us, today, tomorrow, this year, next ... Our endeavors will reflect our love and admiration for him.”
—Honorary plaque to Munson in Yankee Stadium

Thurman Munson is remembered by fans as the fiercely competitive, tough, and—most of all—inspiring Yankee captain and champion from the wild Bronx Zoo years. He is also remembered for his tragic death, at age thirty-two, when the private plane he was piloting crashed in Canton, Ohio, on August 2, 1979.

Munson is the intimate biography of a complex and larger-than-life legend. Written by former Yankees public relations director Marty Appel, who worked closely with Thurman throughout his career, Munson captures the little-known details of the young man from Canton and his meteoric rise to stardom in baseball’s most storied franchise. Appel examines the tumultuous childhood that led Thurman to work feverishly to escape Canton—and also the marriage and cultural roots that continually drew him back.

Appel also opens a fascinating door on the famed Yankees of the 1970s, recounting moments and stories that have never been told before. From the clubhouse and the dugout to the front office and the owner’s box, this thoughtful baseball biography delves into the affectionately gruff captain’s relationships with friends, fans, and teammates such as Lou Piniella, Bobby Murcer, Graig Nettles, and Reggie Jackson, as well as his colorful dealings with manager Billy Martin and his surprisingly close bond with owner George Steinbrenner. Munson paints a revealing portrait of a private Yankee superstar, as well as a nostalgic and revelatory look at the culture—and amazing highs and lows—of the 1970s New York Yankees teams. More than a biography, Munson is the definitive account of a champion who has not been forgotten and of the era he helped define—written with the intimate detail available only to a true insider.

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Review:

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)



About the Author:

Following his years as the Yankees’ PR director, Marty Appel became an Emmy Award–winning television producer and coauthored Munson’s bestselling autobiography, as well as a number of other books. Appel lives in New York City and appears frequently on YES Network, ESPN, MLB, and HBO.

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