Thursday, July 9, 2009

Book Review - Munson: The Life and Death of a Yankee Captain

Marty Appel took his first crack co-authoring a Thurman Munson autobiography in 1977. "Can you make it funny?", Thurman asked Appel. "Sure, give me more funny stories." It turned out to be a more "traditional" version of an autobiography than Appel had signed on for.

Now in his second Munson book in 32 years (in stores this past Tuesday), Appel, a Yankee PR man from 1968 to 1977, really has the goods on Munson. I wasn't yet born when Thurman Munson passed away, but after reading Appel's account, really just a series of stories from friends, family, teammates and acquaintances, I feel gypped that I never got to see him play for myself.

I've grown up rooting for two clean-cut Yankee captains, Don Mattingly and Derek Jeter. So imagine my surprise to learn that just 30 years ago, the Yankee captain was a man who dressed in polyester on and off the field, had nicknames like "Tugboat," and "Beer Can," and responded to being booed at Stadium by flipping off the Yankee faithful. Goose Gossage says that when he'd come in to close out the game, Munson would greet him politely at the mound: "Hey f*ckhead, how are you gonna lose this one?" I wonder if Posada ever said that to Mariano...

Appel's book gives the fans an insight to Munson that he never could while Munson was alive, both the good and the bad. He once went 11 days without shaving during the season--a big Yankee no-no. He demanded that in his contract, there be a clause so that no matter who the Yankees acquired, Munson would always be the highest paid player on the team. And he loved the serenity that came with flying his own planes--a hobby he picked up to spend more time at home with his family.

Reading this book is a treat, even for a younger generation of fans who only know names like Bobby Murcer (the man I was named after) and Lou Piniella for their work in baseball after their playing days. Some of the stories are so good that I almost felt like Appel was cheating for being so well-connected with the Yankees, having been in their employ during some of the truly great what-it-means-to-be-a-Yankee kind of years.

Marty Appel is a pro, and it's apparent in Munson. The first half of the book is a connected series of anecdotes from Thurman's formative years and playing career. The second half winds down with lucid, but not gruesome details about the crash from the two other passengers that survived the crash, teammate reactions, life after Thurman Munson, and really just a lot of powerful stuff that not too many authors would have had such easy access to.

We don't love the term "True Yankee" here at NSI, but if there ever was one, it was Thurman Munson.
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