The 5 Best Yankees Mustaches: Thurman Munson
With the latest Yankee- Matt Carpenter- sporting some hair above the lip, let's take this week to look at the best Yankees mustaches!
Disclaimer: Our last three posts were moved back one day each to accommodate the doubleheader and subsequent game threads on Thursday night. The remainder of this series will run through this Sunday.
Before the Mustache:
Thurman Munson was born on June 7th, 1947 in Akron, OH. He and his family would move to Canton, OH when Thurman was 8 years old. Thurman would go on to be an all-state athlete in football (as a halfback), basketball (as a guard), and baseball (as a catcher). From here, Munson would receive scholarship offers to college; choosing Kent State University. In 1967, Munson would play amateur baseball in the Cape Cod league while hitting to a .420 batting average and leading his team to a championship title.
Thurman Munson would go on to be selected by the New York Yankees with the 4th overall pick in the 1968 MLB First Year Player Draft. After getting drafted Munson would immediately be sent to the Binghamton Triplets (Double-A) where he would play and finish his first professional season. For 1969, Munson started the season with the Syracuse Chiefs (Triple-A), spending half the season there before moving up and making his MLB debut.
Thurman Munson would make his MLB debut on August 8th, 1969 with a 2 hit, 2 RBI effort in a win against the Oakland Athletics. Thurman would play a bunch that September, but recorded playing time that was just too short to break his rookie eligibility. After the 1969 season, the Yankees traded away catcher Frank Fernandez and Thurman was set to play for the starting role against Jake Gibbs.
Thurman won the starting role handedly, hitting to a .302/.386/.415 (.801 OPS/126 OPS+) extended triple-slash in 1970 with 6 home runs and 137 hits over 132 games. He would go on to win the American League Rookie of the Year award.
Thurman would go on to continue to solidify his role as the everyday catcher for the Yankees over the 1971 and 1972 as he was named an All-Star in 1971 and hit to a .280 average in 1972. However, Munson was on the brink of two great things for his career going into the 1973 season.
Career Stats (before the Mustache): 423 Games Played, .277/.353/.380 (.733 OPS/114 OPS+), 415 Hits, 57 Doubles, 24 Home Runs, 150 RBI's, 166 Walks, and 189 Strikeouts
After the Mustache:
It is not clear exactly when Thurman Munson decided to wear the mustache he would wear for the rest of his life, but it is well decided that it came during the 1973 season after George Steinbrenner adopted a military-like rule for the Yankees to be clean shaven below the lips and around the chin. This mustache may have unlocked the greatness of Thurman Munson.
In 1973, Thurman Munson would hit above .300 for the first time since his true rookie season (1970) while playing into the All-Star game, garnering some MVP support, and taking home his first gold glove at the catcher position. At the time and even more so given advanced metrics, the 1973 season would be Munson's career best. However, that doesn't mean he became a flop.
The 1973 season began a slew of 6-straight All-Star Game appearances, 3-straight gold glove awards, and 6-straight seasons with MVP support. His 1973 season pushed him into contention as one of the best catchers in baseball during his time, while he was playing against the likes of Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, Ted Simmons, and Gene Tenace.
After a slew of personal awards for Munson between 1973 and 1975, Munson then took home two more honors as he helped the Yankees cement themselves at the top of the sport as a team. At the beginning of the 1976 season, Munson was named the 10th captain in the history of the New York Yankees, and the first since Lou Gehrig's tenure ended in 1939. Munson would go on to hit .302/.337/.432 that season while taking home the AL MVP award. That season would also be the first the Yankees would make the postseason for the first time since 1964, beating the Kansas City Royals for the AL Pennant, though they ultimately lost the World Series. (Not to Thurman's fault, as he hit .529 in the World Series.)
Then, to avenge the World Series loss in 1976, Thurman Munson and the Yankees would go on to put up back-to-back 100 win seasons in 1977 and 1978 (the first 100 win season since 1963 and first back-to-back since 1941-1942) while taking home the American League pennant against the Kansas City Royals in each years ALCS and beating the Los Angeles Dodgers in each years World Series.
After becoming an MVP, 6-time All-Star, 3-time Gold Glove winner, and 2-time World Series champion (back-to-back), Thurman Munson's final season, and his life, would come to an unfortunate and unexpected end on August 2nd, 1979. As the pilot of a Cessna Citation 501, Thurman Munson accidently clipped a tree while practicing takeoffs and landings at Akron-Canton airport, resulting in a crash that took his life. Two other passengers on the plane credited Thurman with saving their lives in the midst of an accident while friend Jerry Anderson stated afterwards that, "Thurman flew that airplane to the last nanosecond. He kept it under control and brought us down. He never panicked. He saved our lives."
Career Stats (after the Mustache): 1000 Games Played, .297/.344/.422 (.765 OPS/117 OPS+), 1143 Hits, 172 Doubles, 89 Home Runs, 551 RBI's, 272 Walks, and 382 Strikeouts
After August 2nd, 1979 the Yankees immediately retired Thurman Munson's number 15 and they have kept his locker unchanged ever since. During Derek Jeter's career and tenure as the Yankees captain in the "Old Yankee Stadium" from 1995 to 2008, his locker was placed next to Thurman Munson's. His locker was then moved in one piece after the 2008 season to the "New Yankee Stadium", where it sits in the Yankees Museum.
It is my hope that some day soon the rest of baseball- namely the Baseball Hall of Fame- recognizes Thurman Munson for his great, and shortened, career. As of today, he is the best pure catcher (i.e. not Joe Mauer) to not be a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.