On August 6, 1979, Bobby Murcer hit a three-run home run in the seventh inning and then singled home Bucky Dent and Willie Randolph in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the New York Yankees a come-from-behind win over the Baltimore Orioles.
A week before the game there appeared little to make this ABC Monday Night Baseball a special match up. The Orioles would go on to win 102 games and play in the World Series while the Yankees were playing out the stretch on a fourth place season.
Then, on August 2, Thurmon Munson was killed while practicing takeoffs and landings at the Akron Canton Airport.
Flags flew at half-mast at Yankee Stadium during the Thurmon Munson Tribute game, shown this afternoon on ESPN Classic, 30 years to the day after Munson died.
I’m not a Yankees fan by any stretch but it’s hard not to appreciate the team’s history. And a big part of that history during the 1970s was Munson.
Broadcasting legend Howard Cosell said late in that broadcast that “If integrity and decency and honor matter Thurmon Munson represented all of them.”
Cosell’s partner, Keith Jackson – always more concise than his words – described Munson simply as “a gamer.”
Munson’s number 15 was immediately retired by George Steinbrenner and his locker – transported to the Yankee museum in the new ballpark this year – was never used again.
But his teammates provided probably the greatest tribute a group of teammates could provide for a fallen team leader. They fought and clawed to win in dramatic fashion a game in which they fell behind 4-0.
The powerful Orioles bunch had won 62 of the last 63 games they had led heading into the ninth inning. But Murcer, one of Munson’s two closest friends on the team (with Lou Piniella, according to media reports) provided the winning hit.
It’s been 30 years to the day since Munson died. He is not in the Hall of Fame and at this point it’s likely he won’t end up there. But he’s got ballparks and sports bars named after him in Canton, Ohio and a legacy in New York proven by a series of stories the New York Post published five years ago.
He clearly left a mark.