Pinstriped glory, the greatest moments in Yankee history part one: Bobby Murcer honors his friend and captain

BBB Writer Fave Ruggiero will be looking back at some of the greatest moments in Yankees history leading us to opening day in Toronto.

On August 2, 1979, the baseball world and the Yankees suffered a horrific tragedy. Thurman Munson, the Yankees captain and leader on an off the field, was involved in a fatal plane crash. Thurman was the 1970 AL Rookie of the Year and the league MVP in 1976. He was a vital part of the team’s back to back championships in 1977 and 1978. Perhaps his greatest accomplishment was being named the first team captain since the legendary Lou Gehrig. Munson was beloved by many, he worked hard on the field and no one could ever complain about his effort on a nightly basis. Aside from being a terrific player the seven-time All-Star was an even better husband and father.
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Munson was an avid pilot and had many successful flights, he had many arguments with owner George Steinbrenner about Munson’s love for the sky. Steinbrenner was against it fearing a tragedy could happen as “The Boss” and Munson were quite close. Munson fought for his right to be able to fly and eventually Steinbrenner relented and a stipulation was added to Munson’s contract allowing him to be able to fly during the season.

 August the second was an off day for the Yankees, so Munson returned to his native Ohio and was practicing take offs and landings with his friend Jerry Anderson and his flight instructor Dave Hall. After multiple safe passes something went terribly wrong, the plane’s altitude dropped too quickly causing the engine’s power to drop before Munson had a chance to increase it. Sadly, the plane clipped a tree and fell short of the runway and burst into flames. Munson’s two passengers were able to escape the plane, but the Yankee captain would not be as fortunate. The coroner’s report stated that although he suffered a broken neck the cause of death was asphyxiation due to the smoke from the fire.

It’s hard to imagine that a great moment could come from such a senseless and devastating tragedy, but that is what happened in the days following Munson’s death. On August 6th, just four days after he had passed, Munson’s funeral was held. The man who gave the eulogy was Munson’s best friend and Yankee teammate Bobby Murcer. Many of the team had flown from New York to Ohio to pay their respects. Murcer quoted the Italian-American philosopher Angelo Patri in the eulogy by saying "The life of a soul on earth lasts longer than his departure. He lives on in your life and the life of all others who knew him."

After that touching moment, the team got on a plane and headed back to New York as they had a game with the visiting Baltimore Orioles that evening. Yankees’ manager Billy Martin wanted to sit Murcer knowing how much Munson had meant to him but Murcer insisted on playing to honor his fallen teammate.

 The Orioles held a 4-0 lead and everything seemed all doom and gloom until Murcer came up in the seventh inning and hit a three-run home run to bring the Bronx Bombers within one. Murcer came up one more time in the bottom of the ninth with two men on. As he dug into the box Murcer gripped the bat just a bit tighter than he normally did. He slapped a base hit down the left field line scoring both runs and giving the Yankees a 5-4 walk-off win. Murcer had driven in all five Yankee runs and he couldn’t have done it on a more meaningful day.

Legendary broadcaster Howard Cosell was on the call of the game that night and he declared the performance by Murcer to be a “heroic performance.” Bobby Murcer never used the bat from that night again, he gave it to Diana Munson, the widow of his best friend. Bobby Murcer passed away in 2008 but fans of the game, Yankee fans, and the Munson family will never forget the way he honored his friends, their father, husband, teammate and captain that warm night in August of 1979.

Here’s to you Bobby and to you Captain!

Article by: Fave Ruggiero


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