It’s not the NL MVP, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s much more impactful.
While Jimmy Rollins ran away with the honors for best player in the National League, David Wright will have to settle for being honored with one of five “Thurmans” to be handed out at the 28th annual Thurman Munson Awards on February 5th at the Marriott Martquis in Times Square. Wright, Melky Cabrera, Craig Biggio, NY Knick Jamal Crawford and Olympic gold medal-winning figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi all will be recognized for their excellence in competition and philanthropic work within the community.
The dinner remembers the late, great Yankee catcher Thurman Munson who died tragically in a 1979 plane crash. Thurman’s widow Diana Munson has been involved in the dinner since its inception 28 years ago, and has raised over $8 million for the Association for the Help of Retarded Children (AHRC), a not-for-profit organization with many programs that enable people with developmental disabilities to lead richer, more productive lives. AHRC New York City is one of the largest organizations of its kind, serving 11,000 children and adults who have mental retardation, autism, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injuries and other developmental disabilities.
So, from the perspective that this honor means Wright is helping others, and that the award dinner will raise money for people in need, it means more than the MVP — at least in my book. Congrats to David and the other honorees.
On a personal note, Thurman Munson was my favorite baseball player growing up (yes, I did watch the Yankees back then, mainly because the Mets were on TV only once every two weeks), and he was the reason I put on the catcher’s gear as a little leaguer. Some 30 years later, I’m still squatting behind the plate for semi-pro teams, and continue to think about “Thurm” as the model for what a catcher — and ballplayer — should be. For those who missed out on seeing him play, Munson was a throwback — the type of guy who gave everything he had on the field for nine full innings. He was a fiery, inspirational leader who hustled all over the place, often playing in pain, and always going all-out on every single play. He also handled the bat well, a rarity who could put the ball over the fence and also go the other way on a hit-and-run — but was best known for his performance “in the clutch”. His career postseason average was .357, including the 1976 World Series when he hit .529 in a losing cause. Behind the dish, he was equally talented, an outstanding handler of pitchers and premier field general. Though his arm wasn’t as strong as contemporary Johnny Bench’s, it was above average and enhanced by the quickest release of all-time. Legend has it that he was clocked with a “pop time” of 1.6 seconds — during a game. If you don’t know anything about “pop time”, that’s the time it takes for the ball to get from the catcher’s glove to second base when attempting to throw out a runner — and trust me, 1.6 is pretty damn fast (MLB average is 2.0-2.2, and the best times Pudge Rodriguez ever recorded were around 1.8). He was an absolute treat to watch; it is a shame he died young and wasn’t able to touch more people with his work on and off the field.
How beloved and respected was Thurman Munson? Consider this: he was the first captain of the New York Yankees since Lou Gehrig. After he died — and to this day — the space where his locker was in the Yankee clubhouse remains empty as a tribute (the original can be seen in Cooperstown at the HOF). His number 15 was retired by the Yankees, and there is a Munson plaque in Monument Park beyond the Yankee Stadium outfield fence.
Yes, Munson was a Yankee, but I think Mets fans — and all fans — can appreciate who he was. It’s nice to see his legacy continue, and I find it fitting that David Wright will be honored in Munson’s name. In fact, I think if Thurm were around to watch baseball today, Wright would be one of his favorites.