After years of heartache, Thurman Munson might be closer to Cooperstown than ever

Bronx Artist Andre Trenier's mural of Thurman Munson on E. 161st Street.

Any Yankee fan who hears the name of the late Thurman Munson usually lets out a sigh of desolate sorrow, thinking of what might have been.  

The two-time World Series Champion catcher was the captain and spirit of the Bronx Bombers during the 1970s. His life was cut tragically short on Aug. 2, 1979 in a plane crash near his home in Ohio.

The Yankees retired their captain’s number, 15, and gave him a plaque besides other Yankee greats honored at Monument Park. But despite his decorated résumé — a seven-time All-Star and a three-time Golden Glover — Munson’s family has yet to receive the call from Cooperstown and the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

That all could change next month, as MLB has an opportunity to remedy that snub during its winter meetings as Munson joins fellow Yankee Don Mattingly and other baseball greats that are getting a second chance on the 2020 Modern Era Committee ballot.  

Having played at a time with catchers like fellow modern era candidate Ted Simmons, Carlton Fisk, Gary Carter and Johnny Bench, it has been previously argued that Munson did not stand out above his above average peers, despite the captain’s unfortunate demise. 

But Munson’s leadership in a sometimes volatile clubhouse helped guide the Yankees to back-to-back World Championships when other teams might have fallen apart from the chaos. The 1977 season itself demonstrates that, with manager Billy Martin famously clashing with superstar slugger Reggie Jackson and constantly griping with owner George Steinbrenner.

The next year, Steinbrenner canned Martin (one of the five times he’d fire his skipper) in the middle of the season, with the Yankees far back of the Boston Red Sox in the standings. Munson not only helped the Yankees overcome that deficit, but also win the World Series again.

After Munson’s passing, the Yankees wouldn’t win another World Series until 1996 — though his loss wasn’t the sole reason for that period of failure for the Bronx Bombers.

But just imagine if Munson had played in the 1981 World Series against Tommy Lasorda’s Dodgers. When a team loses a series by one or two games, it’s usually one player’s effort that makes the difference. We’ll never know if Munson could’ve helped turn around the Yankees fortunes.

A player who consistently demonstrates the ability to hit in the clutch, inspire teammates, and win championships — combined with a consistent record of excellence on the field — is worthy of Cooperstown. 

It’s hard for anyone to argue that Munson doesn’t meet that standard. We’ll see if the Modern Era Committee will make that call on Dec. 8.

Alex Mitchell