A Case For Thurman Munson and D.J. LeMahieu
In the wake of a thrilling World Series, we find ourselves staring straight in the face of a long off-season that is sure to include countless trade rumors and free agent buzz. After steam rolling the Minnesota Twins in the ALDS, a championship series loss to the Astros has left much to be desired for Yankees fans who have now watched their team miss out on the Fall Classic for the last decade. While nothing compares to winning it all, this off-season will provide several opportunities for a bit of Yankee pride. Earlier this week, the 2020 Modern Era ballot for Hall Of Fame consideration was unveiled. The list of candidates includes nine former big leaguers whose impact on the game came in a time frame from 1970-1987. Marvin Miller, who headed the Players’ Association from 1966 to 1982, is also up for election. Among the players on the list are Lou Whitaker, Dwight Evans, and Thurman Munson. The case for Munson has long been discussed in baseball circles, as the career of the late Yankee captain certainly presents an intriguing argument.
According to JAWS, a statistic that takes into consideration a players’ career WAR and their seven best seasons, Munson ranks 12th all-time among catchers and ahead of six Hall of Fame backstops, including Roy Campanella. The Yankee great earned Rookie of the Year honors in 1970 and was named American League MVP in 1976 when he batted .302 and drove in 105 runs. In his ten full seasons, Munson was an All-Star seven times. But his success was not limited to the regular season, as he owns a career .357 average and 22 RBI in 30 postseason games. Playing the most demanding defensive position, the Yankee catcher won three Gold Glove Awards and threw out 44% of attempted base stealers in his postseason career. Munson’s overall numbers are tragically abbreviated, so we can only image just how great he would have been over a longer career. But even so, the numbers he did put up are certainly worthy of consideration.
Also this week, the finalists for the BBWAA Awards were unveiled and of interest is Aaron Boone as a finalist for Manager of the Year in the American League. Boone became the first manager in baseball history to win 100+ games in each of his first two seasons at the helm. Most notably, he navigated an MLB record 30 players who landed on the Injured List this year while helping lead his team to a division title. While we are rooting for the Yankee manager to take home the honor next week, there are many in the same camp who feel that there was an oversight in the balloting for American League MVP. The finalists for this award are Mike Trout, Alex Bregman, and Marcus Semien. While all three players had exceptional seasons and deserve to be on the list, you could make a valid argument that D.J. LeMahieu belongs in the conversation. LeMahieu had a breakout year while serving as the leadoff hitter in a loaded lineup. He roved between three positions when called upon and was the Yankees’ best hitter this season. But does that make him worthy of league-wide recognition? When compared to Semien, who probably holds the weakest case of the three finalists, it’s certainly a close call. While LeMahieu produced a higher batting average, on-base percentage, more hits and more RBI, Semien produced 8.1 WAR to LeMahieu’s 6.0 WAR. The Oakland shortstop was also just one of five players in baseball to play all 162 games this season. However, the Yankee infielder bested him on defense, boasting a .992 fielding percentage to Semien’s .981.
You make the call— do Thurman Munson and D.J. LeMahieu deserve high honors from the baseball writers this off-season?