Munson: The Life and Times of a Yankee Captain

Go buy it.
Marty Appel was involved with the Yankees organization for the better part of the 1970’s, and he was the Public Relations Director for a few of those. Aside from his stint in New York, he is president of Marty Appel Public Relations and has authored several books. Among those, he has done some biographies and ghost-written some autobiographies, including one for Thurman Munson. Recently, Appel published a second book about Munson, this one a biography, entitled Munson: The Life and Times of a Yankee Captain.
When contemplating his first book on Munson, Appel notes, “I have reread that book over the years, I’ve always felt that Thurman held back too much, skirting over personal matters, as was his right” (10). The Yankee captain would reveal his baseball secrets and stories, but emotional matters concerning his family and childhood were largely left untouched due to Munson’s shyness, and possibly even shame. In this book, Appel reaches for a softer, more complex side to Munson, one mostly unseen by baseball fans who mainly saw him as a grumpy, moody, and maybe even self-absorbed professional athlete.
Appel starts, as does life, with Munson’s childhood. The son of an abusive and neglectful father in a blue-collar town, it’s no wonder how Munson ended up being the man he was. He was a hard-worker and a man’s man, but he was still guarded and intense. His relationship with his father was “always, at best, strained” (20), and the two never patched things up, ending with his father’s outburst at Thurman’s funeral.
Despite this, Munson wasn’t all cold-hearted and robotic. He had three loves in his life: baseball, his family, and flying. Appel weaves the tale of a powerful romance between Munson and his wife Diana and displays Munson’s inner tenderness as the normally stoic man would drop everything for his children. Being away from them during the season was painful for him, and Munson considered retiring around the age of 30. But baseball had its pull as well.
One place that Munson could feel comfortable was the baseball field. From early on, he was supremely talented. He could do everything — hit, play defense, and run –, and he even played the two toughest positions on the diamond — catcher and shortstop. Munson was always in total control. At the plate, he sprayed line drives at will, and Appel states, “no one questioned his hitting from April 20 [1970] on through the rest of his career” (57). In addition, pitchers loved throwing to him as Munson always called a good game and had a fantastic arm. The Yankees even defied tradition for him, making him the first Yankee captain since Lou Gehrig. And possibly most important, his teammates loved him as a person. Munson was a leader and not afraid to guide the team, but he had a softer side, a joker with a unique ability to relate to and gain the respect of anyone.
But outside of baseball, aviation was a home away from home. Baseball brought him money and fame, but it also brought him attention (something he didn’t want at all) and long road trips (time away from his family). Flying was his panacea to these woes, and ironically his instrument of death. Piloting an aircraft, all at once, gave him a sense of independence and freedom (no one bothers you a few miles up and in a small airplane) and got him home faster. It also ended his life.
Thurman Munson was a complicated man. Stoic yet light-hearted. Tough but tender. Confident and paranoid. Marty Appel does a superb job of revealing all of these sides throughout the book. Oddly enough, I had two main emotions while reading the book. I wanted to laugh because of the great stories, but I wanted to cry because I knew the ending. Maybe this was Appel’s goal in writing the book. To show a man that brought so much joy to so many people, but tragically, what brought him joy (baseball, family, and flying) ultimately combined to bring his premature death.
Munson: The Life and Times of a Yankee Captain by Marty Appel is excellent and an easy read. But be prepared for heartbreak.
I would like to thank Marty Appel Public Relations for sending me the book. It was very nice of them to do so, but it did not have any bearing on how I read the book. 🙂

One Response to “Munson: The Life and Times of a Yankee Captain”

  1. jorgesaysno Says:

    Well done, sir. This was a great read.

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