Who Was Thurman Munson and Why Isn’t He in the Hall of Fame?

For New York Yankees fans who remember the 1970s – or any baseball fan, really – catcher Thurman Munson has a special place.

Thurman Munson Remembered

You can look at the stats and the awards (we will, below). But there are two things people most remember about Munson.

  • His phenomenal play in the postseason. He helped the Yankees win three American League pennants and two World Series between 1976 and 1978. It was part of a resurgence for the Yankees under new owner George Steinbrenner, who bought the team in 1973
  • His tragic death, at age 32, while practice landing his Cessna Citation plane at the Akron-Canton Airport on Aug. 2, 1979

Fans who are old enough remember Munson as one of the greatest catchers the game ever produced. Although he played at a time when Johnny Bench also played and was sometimes overshadowed, he still left an indelible impression.

Why isn’t he in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown? That’s more complicated.

Munson’s Accomplishments

When Steinbrenner bought the Yankees, they hadn’t been to the World Series since 1964. That’s a long drought for a team used to winning championships. Munson played a key role in the team’s revival.

The other players respected him so much that he was named captain of the team, the first person named to that position since the great Lou Gehrig. Munson, who was from Ohio, was a scrappy player who played every game as if the season was on the line. It won his teammates’ respect.

Munson’s stats are impressive. He had a lifetime .292 batting average. In his Rookie of the Year season in 1970, he hit .302. He won Gold Gloves in 1973, 1974 and 1975. He had 113 career home run and 701 RBI.

He also was named Most Valuable Player in 1976, the year he became Yankees captain, and as an All-Star in seven seasons. He hit over .300 in three consecutive seasons, 1975-1977.

But the playoffs are where he played his best. In 16 starts in the World Series, he hit .373. He hit .357 in the playoffs for his career.

And he came through with heroics in big moments, too. He broke a 1-1 tie in the 1978 American League Championship series with the Kansas City Royals by hitting a homerun in the bottom of the eighth inning. He threw out four of six baserunners against the fleet-footed Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1977 World Series.

Why Isn’t Thurman Munson in the Hall of Fame?

With his amazing statistics, many wonder why Munson has not been inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Ranker currently has Thurman Munson listed as 15th on the list of “the best baseball players not in the Hall of Fame.” The list contains those who are no longer active players and have had the chance to be listed on the Hall of Fame ballot at least once.

And that’s just one of many such lists.

Many theories abound. The Sporting News speculated that since he fell so far short of getting into Cooperstown the first time he was on the ballot – just two years after his death – in subsequent years fewer baseball writers have voted for him.

They also speculate the shortness of his career – 11 seasons – hurt him.

But the argument for Munson is strong. A case could be made that without him, the Yankees would have gone from 1964 to 1996 without a championship. His performance in the playoffs ranks among the best of all time – not just for a catcher, but for all players.

As it stands, Thurman Munson is among one of the most puzzling oversights of the Hall of Fame.

2018-06-12T10:11:00+00:00By |1 Comment

One Comment

  1. Allan Blutstein July 5, 2018 at 9:51 am - Reply

    Good article. Notably, Munson reportedly acknowledged to Don Bauer (who sold Munson the Cessna Citation in which he died) that he would need to play for a few more years in order to make the Hall of Fame. Bauer recounted that conversation in a sworn deposition in connection with Mrs. Munson’s wrongful death lawsuit.

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