Today marks the 3oth anniversary of Thurman Munson’s tragic death in a plane crash, and it’s hard to think of another player who epitomized the 1970s more than the New York Yankees captain.
The 1970 AL Rookie of the Year, Munson was a seven-time All-Star in the Seventies, captured three Gold Gloves, and nabbed the AL MVP award in 1976 with a .302 batting average, 15 home runs and 105 RBIs. Over the decade Munson didn’t belt as many jaw-dropping dingers as Jackson or Stargell, nor did he seriously challenge Carew or Brett for a batting title.
Munson’s style, much like current Yankee captain Derek Jeter, dealt with more intangibles such as leadership and grit. He played with the heart of a lion and his scrappy, scruffy, no-fear approach to the game made him stand out among his catching contemporaries including Hall of Famers Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk and Gary Carter. And baseball fans loved him for it.
For Munson, it was about giving it all you got, and in return, that produced success, including three consecutive World Series appearances (1976-78) and back-to-back titles in 1977 and 1978. More impressive is his overall .357 postseason batting average, including a .373 World Series average (good for fifth best all-time) and an impressive .529 average in the 1976 Fall Classic, which included a record nine singles.
While Munson’s numbers may never be etched on a plaque in Cooperstown, he will certainly remain in the hearts and minds of those who remember the Yankee legend. Fortunately for collectors, the industry continues to fondly remember him through retro game-used jersey cards and other throwback and Yankees sets.
Munson’s regular-issue cards cover the entire decade – from his 1970 Topps RC (#189, valued today at $100) to his final card in 1979 (#310, $3). Yet, it’s probably his second-year 1971 Topps card (#5, $120) that commands the most attention with collectors because of the set’s hyper-sensitive black borders. Not only is it Munson’s first card by himself (that is if you don’t count a head-first sliding, dirt-eating Sal Bando), it’s a great action shot of him doing what he did best – getting down and dirty. Ironically, Munson’s second-year ’71 gem in top condition always wins over his RC in both price and sentiment, which is a rarity in this industry.
Just like Thurman was.
— Stan Carlberg