Featured Book: Munson The Life And Death of a Yankee Captain

 The Life and Death of a Yankee Captain

Released July 7, 2009

On August 2, 1979, Thurman Munson died at the age of thirty-two, when the private plane he was piloting crashed in Canton, Ohio. A piece of the New York Yankees franchise died that day—Munson is still remembered by fans as a quintessentially tough, fiercely competitive, endearing Yankee leader. He was, and still is, known as “The Captain.”

MUNSON is the authoritative biography fans have been awaiting for thirty years. Written by Marty Appel, who worked as the PR director for the Yankees during the seventies (and co-wrote Munson’s own autobiography in 1978), this triumphant, energetic, and tragic baseball biography captures the young man from Canton and his meteoric rise to stardom in baseball’s most storied franchise. MUNSON examines the tumultuous childhood that led Thurman to work feverishly to escape Canton—and the marriage and cultural roots that drew him back (so much so that he took up flying and bought his own plane to allow himself to spend more time at home).

Opening a fascinating door on the Yankees of the 1970s, Appel recounts stories that have never been told, and examines the Yankees’ gruff captain’s relationships with friends and teammates such as Lou Piniella, Bobby Murcer, Graig Nettles and Reggie Jackson, as well as Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner. With a level of intimacy and understanding that could be achieved only by someone in Appel’s shoes, MUNSON captures its subject in mesmerizing, nostalgic detail.

“Regardless of whether or how well you recall Thurman Munson or the impact of his career and his sudden death, Appel’s book can at times make you feel as if you had a front-row seat to it all.” – Sports Illustrated

SI-review munson

“Marty Appel’s examination of Thurman Munson’s traumatic life and controversial death is fascinating. The detail is amazing, and there’s an anthology’s worth of illuminating quotes. The glimpses of George Steinbrenner behind the scenes are priceless. An extraordinary book.” —Robert Creamer, bestselling author of Babe: The Legend Comes to Life

“Only Marty Appel could do justice to this fallen leader; a man who, a generation after his death, continues to inspire all who learn about him…Bravo, Marty, for every page!” —Suzyn Waldman, NY Yankees Radio Broadcaster

“If the measure of a great biography is the amount of new, previously un-mined material on the subject, then Marty Appel has hit a grand slam home run with this definitive portrait of Thurman Munson.”
“The definitive bio of Thurman Munson, written by the former Yankee publicity director who knew him perhaps better than his own teammates. Now, for the first time, baseball fans get to really know this very private, tragic Yankee icon.” Bill MaddenNew York Daily News

“Thirty years after teaming with Munson on the Yankee catcher’s autobiography, Appel comes back to finish the ultimately sad tale. No one else could have written this book. No one else could have written it better…Great stuff.” —Leigh Montville, New York Times bestselling author of The Big Bam and Ted Williams

“Told through the voice of a friend and colleague for whom the death of the Yankee captain was a personal and a professional loss, Marty Appel’s incisive and insightful biography of Thurman Munson is not just another sports book….It is a gift to baseball!” — Jane Leavy, author of Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy

“Thurman Munson was the heart and soul of a team that transitioned from also-ran to champion. Marty Appel lived those years with the captain from the inside and now gives us a rare and intimate look at this remarkable, legendary Yankee. This is a must read for any baseball fan.” Michael Kay, YES Network, ESPN Radio

“The best biographies recount the public life, reveal the private life, and give readers a sense of the critical intersection between the two. Appel manages all three and deserves high praise for keeping one of baseball’s most intriguing players in the forefront.” Booklist

“As a Yankees public relations man, then executive producer of WPIX’s Yankee telecasts, Marty Appel holds an audience with his inside looks.” Phil MushnickNew York Post

“This book is spectacular. If you can get through this book without getting choked up, then you possess impressive resolve. Sorry to be so over the top. It’s just fantastic.”Ken DavidoffNewsday

“This biography of Thurman Munson reads as though Marty Appel is an old friend seated across from you, weaving a captivating tale with anecdotes and facts only he could know.”–Bruce Lowitt, former Associated Press sports writer

“Easily the best sports book I’ve read in many years. An absolutely fabulous job.” —Hal Bock, long time Associated Press sports columnist

“This is a rarity in any area, including sports: first-rate journalism. Thanks to this book, we now have not only the Bronx Zoo years from Munson’s perspective, but more importantly, a detailed and carefully researched account of Munson’s last flight, and his memorial service. The almost minute-by minute account of that gathering, when the Yankees all flew to Ohio, attended the service and funeral, flew back to NY and played a game that night, is a moving drama…. This book has it all. It shows how a man can overcome an abusive childhood, yet in some important ways, still be captive to it. “Munson” is a great baseball book, but it is also way more than that.” Darrell Berger, author of “Then Roy Said to Mickey….”

“I am reading the book as slowly as possible to savor every word.” —Doug Lyons, co-author of “Short Hops and Foul Tips

“……meticulously researched and beautifully written. A superior biography… brings Thurman’s legacy to a new generation of fans.” —Rick Cerrone, former Senior Director, Media Relations, New York Yankees


Thurman Munson: The Yankees’ fallen star
Bill Gallo, NY Daily News

Saturday, July 11th 2009, 12:10 AM It is hard to comprehend that on Aug. 2 it will be 30 years since Yankee captain Thurman Munson was burned to death while strapped in his cockpit seat after an ill-fated forced landing, just feet from the runway.

People remember there was pilot error involved in the accident, which was true. What is not well-known was that there was pilot heroism in the final moments.

After it was clear that a crash was imminent, Thurman’s skills did kick in – he guided the jet down onto a field adjacent to the runway, landed it, and he and his two passengers managed to survive.

Munson’s last words in his life were, “Are you guys okay?” Munson’s final actions saved the lives of his

two friends – and would have saved his own if not for that damn tree stump.

This is described in Marty Appel’s wonderful book, “Munson: The Life and Death of a Yankee Captain.”

The book, with all its high drama, humanity and struggle, tells the story of a firm and sure man who overcame a not-too-tuneful youth, having to deal with a tough father who didn’t believe in sparing the rod with any of his kids.

Thurm grew up so uncertain of his father’s love that had it not been for some plusses along the way, he might have gone into young adulthood on a psychiatrist’s couch.

First and foremost, he had loving grandparents. Then, at age 12 he discovered a pretty little

girl named Diana Dominick, who would forever be his girl and later his wife. It’s a great love story.

From Diana and her family, Munson learned how to really live, giving him a “sense of how things should be.”

But hell, I don’t want to give it all away, it should be your treat. So go out and grab it off the shelf and get right into it. You don’t even have to be a Yankee fan to enjoy this story about this fine athlete who died with so much more to give.

Just one more thing: I wish a man such as Steven Spielberg or Yankee fan Billy Crystal would read this book. With it, he could make one hell of a movie.


Mike Vaccaro, New York Post

July 12, 2009 HERE is the thing that makes me saddest whenever I think of Thurman Munson: He should be the star next week when the Yankees conduct what remains one of the greatest traditions in sports, Old-Timers’ Day. He should be the featured attraction. He should be the one who gets the loudest cheers, the longest ovation, the greatest amount of attention.

Old Timers’ Days were invented for guys like Munson, guys who had special and perennial connections with the fans. The very first baseball game I attended was in June 1974, back when the Mets actually thought enough of their fans and their own history to hold Old Timers’ Days, and the highlight that afternoon was when the center-field fence opened up and in walked Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Duke Snider and Willie Mays.

I was 7 years old, and I’d never heard a noise like the one that accompanied that fabulous foursome as they slowly made their way from the outfield toward home plate, a noise so loud it even drowned out LaGuardia Airport. I also had never seen my father cry before, but there he was, bawling like a baby, watching the heroes of his youth amble by on gimpy knees and the wings of the fans’ devotion.

That’s what they should be able to have at Yankee Stadium next week: Munson and Yogi Berra, walking from the outfield, maybe both of them wearing shin guards or chest protectors for extra effect. There is little doubt that Yogi is now the most beloved living Yankee, the surviving icon of one era of dominance. And if Munson were still alive, he would be right there, too, the beacon of another era of Yankee prominence.

We know, of course, that is impossible, because 30 years ago next month, on Aug. 2, 1979, Munson’s plane went down in Canton, Ohio, drilling a void into

a large segment of Yankees history, one that remains to this day. I am always amazed at the way old-time Yankees are received now at the Stadium for various honorary functions; the old-timers such as Yogi and Whitey Ford are always greeted with roars, as are the more recent conquering heroes such as Bernie Williams and Paul O’Neill and Tino Martinez.

More muted are the reactions given the likes of Ron Guidry and Sparky Lyle and Graig Nettles and, especially, Reggie Jackson. There’s a warmth there, and a fondness, but you rarely hear the same crashing waves of sound you hear for the older Yankees, or the younger ones, and I can’t help but wonder if it’s almost a muted response out of respect for who’s not there.

If you are a Yankees fan, you miss Thurman. You’ve missed him for 30 years. And you will probably always miss him, and lament the fact that not only was he taken from you, and his family, far too soon, he was denied these annual rites of devotion. Think of all the hundreds of times, the thousands of times, that Mantle and DiMaggio heard the deafening roars of appreciation tumble on them from the upper decks of the old stadium; Munson wasn’t in that class as a player, but he was absolutely in that class as a fan favorite, as the symbol of an era. And he never got the chance to hear the people say thank you.

So do yourself a favor, sometime between now and next Sunday: go out and get a copy of “Munson: The Life and Death of a Yankee Captain,” a wonderful and heartbreaking biography published by Doubleday and written by Marty Appel, who himself is one of the great New York sports institutions of the past four decades. Appel was an assistant in the Yankees’ PR office when he first met Munson 41 years ago, when the Yankees had Munson’s Binghamton Triplets play Waterbury in a Double-A game at Yankee Stadium.

Ten years later, the two men collaborated on Munson’s autobiography, a work that even Appel has long lamented left out so much about Munson’s life that would have better explained who he was and how he achieved what he did, mostly because Munson didn’t want to delve too deeply into himself and wasn’t much interested in using a book to settle old scores. That book sold, sadly, as much because Munson happened to die when he did as much as anything interesting contained between the covers.

Appel’s new book, however, is a wonderful example of what’s possible when you have a compelling subject and an author who not only has the insight to tell that subject’s story but also the ability to tell it in a way that is affectionate without being fawning; that is honest without being voyeuristic; and that is eloquent without being purple. It is, no doubt, closer to the book Appel would have liked Munson to write himself back in 1979, but 30 years distance (and a lifetime of perspective, and a skilled author’s typewriter) make this book far better than that one ever likely could have been.

Perhaps the most amazing part of this book is that it recounts, in remarkable detail, the tragic events of and leading up to Aug. 2, 1979, in a way that’s never been done this completely before, yet still is far more a celebration of how Munson lived than how he died. In that way, it is a perfect companion piece to “Luckiest Man,” Jonathan Eig’s 2005 masterpiece on the life and death of Lou Gehrig, another Yankee captain taken too soon who was also denied the warm embrace of a welcoming Stadium (with one notable exception, of course).

Reading “Munson” won’t make next Sunday any less sad when they introduce the roster of returnees and No. 15 won’t be among them. But it will make you feel better each time you flip it open. And I can think of no better way to spend a couple of summer hours than that. Can you?


Unleashed at Last, Author Digs Deeper Into Munson’s Life

June 29, 2009 Thirty-one years ago, Marty Appel wrote Thurman Munson’s autobiography.
Now, in an unusual literary leap, he has written a biography of Munson.

“I never felt like I let anybody down with the first book,” Appel said last week in his Manhattan apartment. “I fulfilled my responsibilities. But I knew there was always so much more to the story.”

Munson, the former Yankees captain and catcher, died 30 years ago when the private jet he was piloting crashed. Appel would not have pursued the new biography had Munson not been so reluctant to open up during 12 hours of interviews in 1977 and 1978.

The autobiography was a routine look at a short career, unlike “The Bronx Zoo,” Sparky Lyle’s (and Peter Golenbock’s) humorous, candid best-selling book about the Yankees’ 1978 season.

Not surprisingly, Munson’s memoir sold far better after his death.

“It was Thurman’s book,” Appel said. “He was free to leave out whatever he wanted. He never said, ‘I’m not going there,’ but my questions weren’t Mike Wallace-like, either, because I was cooperating with him and telling the story he wanted to.”
Munson might not have agreed to the autobiography had he not trusted Appel, who left his job as the Yankees’ public relations director in early 1977, shortly after Munson was named the 1976 American League most valuable player. Munson did not think much of writing a memoir — he was only 29 and thought it would be too personal an experience — until Appel reasoned that if someone else wrote a biography, Munson would hate it.

The collaborator and biographer work at different ends of the life story spectrum. The former writes an as-told-to memoir controlled (but not always read) by the star.

The biographer broadens the story in ways that may upset the star or his family.

David Maraniss, the author of biographies of Bill Clinton, Vince Lombardi and Roberto Clemente, said he would never collaborate on an autobiography that he could not report thoroughly or write a biography authorized by the subject or his family.
“How do you collaborate and maintain complete authorial integrity?” he wrote in an e-mail message in response to questions. “I suppose it’s possible, but not easy.”
Among the writers who have collaborated on their subjects’ memoirs and wrote their biographies are O. B. Keeler and Al Stump. Keeler did it for a friend, the golfing great Bobby Jones. Stump wrote Ty Cobb’s 1961 autobiography but returned 33 years later with a harrowing, warts-filled biography of Cobb, the Detroit Tigers Hall of Famer, that Stump called redemption for participating in what he called the earlier “cover-up.”

“It felt good to lay it on the line,” Stump said in 1994 after the release of the Ron Shelton film “Cobb,” which described Cobb’s paranoid, unstable behavior.
Appel did not have atonement for “Thurman Munson: An Autobiography” in mind while he thought about writing “Munson: The Life and Death of a Yankee Captain” (Doubleday). Instead, it was a sense that Munson’s reticence to discuss his upbringing in Canton, Ohio, or his emotional life warranted a biography. Also, his love of flying was an afterthought in the autobiography — and his death provided a tragic coda.

Munson’s other sister, Janice, refused to speak to Appel. And while Diana Munson cooperated to a small degree, she declined to be interviewed.

At her request, Appel removed a paragraph describing Munson’s autopsy report. Diana Munson did not respond to a message seeking a comment on the book.

Appel’s interviews with Munson’s friends, coaches and teammates stressed his athletic abilities and the sadness that turned into his deep estrangement from his family.

“His high school coach said he would typically drop kids off at home after practice,” Appel said. “But Thurman never wanted that because he didn’t want to take a chance of his coach meeting a family member.”

Appel does not believe he has betrayed Munson by poking into family matters that he would not discuss in life.

“I think he’d come to recognize that his story was an example to people that you can break the cycle,” he said, “that you can live a wonderful family life even if everything in your background says you can’t.”The biography describes Munson’s love-starved family life in Canton with a difficult, sometimes cruel father, Darrell, and Thurman’s eager embrace by his teenage years of the family of his childhood sweetheart and future wife, Diana.

Munson only hinted in the memoir about the turmoil at home that helped form his grumpy adult persona. But Appel’s interviews with Munson’s brother, Duane, and sister Darla describe the dysfunctional family life that turned him so inward.

“I didn’t fully appreciate what was out there until I connected with his brother and sister,” Appel said. “They were the key to the book. They were the missing family.”

In the autobiography, Munson described a tension-free scene with “happy faces” awaiting him at home in Canton when he signed his first Yankee contract in 1967. The new book had the Munson house “buzzing with excitement” except for Darrell Munson, hollering to the assembled family and friends, “He ain’t too good on pop fouls, you know!”


Newsday.com: Ken Davidoff’s baseball insider
June 27, 2009

This book, “Munson: The Life and Death of a Yankee Captain”, is spectacular. If you can get through this book without getting choked up, then you possess impressive resolve.

The author, Marty Appel, worked in the Yankees’ media relations department for most of Munson’s time with the Yankees, and this book has sort of a meta quality to it. Appel and Munson actually worked together on a Munson autobiography in the late 1970s, partly in order to pre-empt any unauthorized books on Munson as his star rose. But at the time, Munson had little interest in discussing his childhood.

Now, nearly 30 years after Munson’s shocking death, Appel decided to make another run at it. He tracked down a brother and sister of Munson, neither of whom had much of a relationship with Thurman when he died. So you learn about Munson’s unhappy childhood. And then, with Appel as a first-hand witness, you get great inside information on the ’70s Yankees. And incredible details on the days immediately following Munson’s plane crash.
Sorry to be so over the top. It’s just fantastic, IMO.

And I’ll give one copy today to the first person who e-mails me – at kdavidoff@newsday.com – with the correct answer to this question: Name the last pitcher that Munson caught in a game.

UPDATE, 7:12 p.m.: We have a winner! Dennis, the Ken Jennings of our contests, knew that Hall of Famer Rich “Goose” Gossage was the last pitcher to throw to Munson in a big-league game. He did so on July 27, 1979, in Milwaukee.


“His telling of Munson’s last days as a New York Yankee, as team captain, as a father, are pokes, prods and a knockout punch to your gut. ” —Jon Lane, MLB.com

“….a brilliant biography….” —Dan Shaughnessy, Boston Globe


‘Munson’ sure to touch fans of all stripes
By Jon Lane / MLB.com

07/15/09 12:00 PM ET You know it’s coming. Word by word, you read the true story about a beloved figure and wholly respected human being and it inches closer and closer to his final and tragic fate. Deep down you’re wishing something different suddenly happens. You’re imploring Thurman Munson to find a new hobby, anything but flying. You, as a baseball fan, or someone who doesn’t know batting average from the Pythagorean Theorem, is begging someone you relate to based on his everyman work ethic to not climb aboard his prized Cessna Citation jet on August 2, 1979.

That afternoon, Munson had a 4 p.m. meeting with his wife, Diana, to hear about plans for the city of Canton, Ohio, to name a road in his honor. Before that, you read through a timeline beginning on Thursday, July 12, in Seattle, hoping against hope you have the power to alter history, that through supernatural telepathy you can convince Thurman Lee Munson that he’s 32 years old and has a lifetime to be a full-time family man. After all, it was thought that Munson would spend his final playing days closer to home or conclude his Yankees legacy at the still-tender age of 35.

But you know it’s coming. That’s the agonizing pull of “Munson, The Life and Death of a Yankee Captain,” written by former Yankees public relations director Marty Appel and released in bookstores last Tuesday. Munson only wanted to check out a few things and look at his prized possession one more time. Then he felt the urge to take his toy airborne, and you know Munson is going to die in a plane crash. Appel reveals that Munson’s decision to forego the previous engagement in favor of touch-and-goes was spontaneous. His telling of Munson’s last days as a New York Yankee, as team captain, as a father, are pokes, prods and a knockout punch to your gut.

“The device I also used was sort of putting the brakes on the story by starting to identify the date and what happened on each date, so the reader knows there’s a countdown clock going on here,” Appel told MLB.com. “It’s normal prose from 1970 to 1978 and then in 1979, suddenly, it’s Thursday, July 18. We identified days as a means of slowing down the pace of the story, so that the reader has a full sense of what’s coming.”

Appel proofread the book four times and tears welled every time. It’ll be 30 years this August that Munson left us way too soon, but the pain will never heal. Appel’s book is the latest to make sense of a tragedy that maintains such a stranglehold on Munson the legend that it sits No. 11 on Amazon.com’s best sellers list in sports books.

“It is kind of a ‘Where were you when it happened?’ moment of which if you’re a certain age there really is a handful of those,” Appel said. “That is why nobody who I spoke to, who is of a certain age, can forget exactly where they were when they heard that news. This was the first baseball tragedy when everybody knew where they were.”

Appel first wrote an autobiography on Munson beginning with the crazy 1977 season, an upbeat story concluding with the Yankees’ first world championship since 1962 and published in ’79. Always a private man, Munson never went too deep into his past, so the end result was a good recounting of his career to that point, but little

on his personal life. Appel recalled a time when Munson asked him, “Can you make it funnier?” Appel replied, “Sure, give me more funny stories.”

There weren’t many, but by the use of archived tapes and conversations with his siblings — the “forgotten family” — Appel’s latest narrative goes extremely deep, recounting tales of a childhood more challenging and tumultuous than anyone can imagine. Once Munson escaped Canton, he evolved into the fourth-overall Draft pick in 1968. During the Yankees’ first encounter with Munson, when their Binghamton farm team played an exhibition game at Yankee Stadium, Appel and his fellow executives were convinced this wasn’t the feared first-round bust.

“He just seemed very poised and we were all thinking this guy is going to be catching in this ballpark real soon,” Appel said. “It was a really down time in Yankees history and we just needed fresh, exciting new faces to come along. Here was a real catcher who was an All-American and the best catcher in the nation.”

The following August Munson was in the Major Leagues, never to return to the Minors again. The most amazing part was how Munson the athlete was a paradox to someone not to be confused with the cover of Men’s Health.

“He was in this squatty body when he should have Carlton Fisk’s or Michael Phelps’ body,” Appel said. “He’d do something once and he’d master it.”

And that’s why Munson became more than a baseball fan’s favorite player. It was always left unsaid, but Munson was a role model in every sense of the word and one’s imagination. He related to those who got their hands dirty and worked with their backs.

And it was not due to talent, but character, when George Steinbrenner suggested in a meeting with manager Billy Martin and team executives before the 1976 season why anointing the Yankees’ first captain since Lou Gehrig was a good idea. He didn’t name names, but he didn’t have to.

“His first sentence wasn’t Munson. But then he said, ‘I think we know who we’re talking about.’ And everybody in the room did,” Appel said. “When you go to Yankee Stadium today, and you see 15 or 20 people at every game with their Munson shirts, they’re by-and-large middle-aged, slightly overweight, blue-collar looking guys. To me, that’s beautiful.”

Not so pretty was an often contentious relationship with the print media. Munson cut more slack to television broadcasters because he believed what was recorded on film couldn’t be taken out of context. While there was never an “enough is enough” moment, Munson once told Appel he hated how print reporters used to write about second baseman Horace Clarke. By the time he was captain, Reggie Jackson had arrived, the era of the Bronx Zoo had begun and Munson stayed out of it, with notable exceptions of his admission of being the “prominent Yankee” and calling out Jackson’s .111 postseason batting average before Game 5 of the 1977 ALCS, when from his sarcasm bred the moniker “Mr. October.”

“He was not the kind of guy who ever wanted to be in the center of controversy and that’s where he found himself, and he was very uncomfortable with it,” Appel

said. “For him, the best way to deal with it was to pretend it wasn’t there and say I’m happy to be here.”

Appel had left the Yankees after 1977 to take a position in the Commissioner’s office. But he continued work on the autobiography, during which time topics often transitioned from baseball to Munson’s true love, his family. The best way to return to his Canton roots during the season was flying home on off-days, another love affair that afforded him quiet time away from the press.

“He offered me to come up with him and mentioned he has a new love in his life, flying,” Appel said. “But the fans had no idea this guy was flying after every game. It was apparent why he had to do it. For those reasons it made sense for him to want to go to Cleveland, to get traded to Cleveland, which he was periodically trying to orchestrate to happen.

“People have asked whether I think he would have managed the Yankees. He might have managed the Indians. It would have made more sense to him.”

Senseless was the news on the other end of the telephone coming from Steinbrenner, who asked to speak with Commissioner Bowie Kuhn immediately because Munson was dead. For Appel, there was no buildup, no solemn “Please sit down, I need to talk to you” moment. There was shock, grief and the responsibility of running down the hall rather than transferring and risk losing the call. Once those initial thoughts on losing a friend ran their laps, his eighth, ninth or 10th was, “Wow, I’m his autobiographer,” which hit him upon the first media inquires looking for a reaction.

Reflecting, Appel recreated the scene at the Yankees offices, where Steinbrenner had to be the Boss while holding back the urge to cry — and cry hard.

“I don’t know if any moment in his tenure as owner of the Yankees ever so crystallized his abilities to take command,” Appel said. “I really like that section in the book because I was able to recreate what went on in his office. He took charge and he was great.”

From driving to Canton with Bobby Murcer and Lou Piniella in his back seat writing their eulogies, to the first time Appel walked into the Munson house and received thanks from Diana Munson for the autobiography, to that sad day when the team buried their captain, “Munson” takes the reader on a poignant remembrance of the best and worst of times. Many have followed their hearts to build cases on why Munson belongs in the Hall of Fame. Also a Hall purist, Appel can’t in good faith put him in. It would require an asterisk and an explanation of what his numbers might have been, and those who knew Munson best would state that he’d say that’s unacceptable.

“[Baseball historian/statistician] Bill James said a lot of guys get injured on way to Cooperstown and it never happens,” Appel said. “Thurman was the most severe case imaginable.”

In penning the book, Appel led with his heart, and to those who idolized No. 15, that’s good enough.

Jon Lane can be reached at jon.lane@mlb.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


Book reveals different side of former Yankee Thurman Munson 
Nearly 30 years after writing his first book on Munson, Marty Appel goes deeper
Munson’s life was cut short in 1979 when he died in a plane crash
Munson was uncomfortable in the spotlight and didn’t care about image

By Jeff Pearlman/ S.I. com

07/16/09 For nearly 30 years, the tapes resided in his dresser — second drawer down from the right. Oh, from time to time Marty Appel thought about listening to them, about revisiting the joy and stress and outlandishness and seriousness and, mostly, the pain. “Years ago I think I played one once, just for a few seconds,” he said. “But that was about it.”

Back in 1977 Appel coauthored Munson, the autobiography of Thurman Munson, the Yankees’ catcher. Appel was fresh off a nine-year stint as the team’s public relations director. He was 29 years old and new to book writing. When he approached the notoriously gruff backstop with the idea of a literary endeavor, Munson agreed, but only under the condition that he, ahem, reveal very, very little.

“It was hard,” Appel said. “Thurman was a great guy, but he didn’t want to get into any controversy and he didn’t want to delve into his background or boyhood. So while I’m happy that book came out, there were serious holes.”

When Munson died in a plane crash at age 32 on Aug. 2, 1979, Appel — along with the entire city of New York — was distraught. Numb. Arriving for the funeral in Canton, Ohio, he was lovingly embraced by Thurman’s widow, Diana. “I want you to know how much that book you did with Thurman means to us all now,” she told him. “We will always have that.”

Thirty years.

The funeral began. The funeral ended.

Thirty years.

The Yankees found new catchers. Brad Gulden,Rick Cerone, Butch Wynagar, Joel Skinner, Mike Figga, Joe Girardi, Jorge Posada…

Jimmy Carter was president. Then Ronald Reagan. Then George H.W. Bush. Then Bill Clinton. Then George W. Bush. Then Barack Obama.

Munson’s teammates aged and grayed and wrinkled. The player he was closest to, Bobby Murcer, died last summer.

The tapes sat. And sat. And sat.

One day, a couple of years ago, Appel decided the time had come. He opened the second drawer on the right, pulled out the tapes — 12 in all. The sound of Munson’s voice — young, vibrant, alive — startled him. To the New York media that covered the Bronx Zoo back in the late 1970s, Munson was often an ornery, unhelpful wart of a man. He could be rude, dismissive and combative. Once, upon receiving a pair of cuff links as a present from an adoring fan, Munson turned to those around him and barked, “What the %$#@ would I want these for?”

Yet Appel had long recognized the insecurity masked by the outbursts. Back then the Yankees were a festering stew of insanity — Reggie Jackson fighting with Billy Martin; George Steinbrenner threatening to fire everyone. “Thurman never felt comfortable with that,” Appel said. “He was the captain, but all he wanted to be was a ballplayer, not someone asked to comment on every little off-the-field debate. He was uncomfortable in the spotlight, but he was not a bad man. There was a lot to him.”

That is made clear in Appel’s latest book, Munson: The Life and Times of a Yankee Captain. A significantly more complete — and better-written — work than the original, Munson should go down as the summer’s best baseball book. As opposed to the surface-level depth of the original, this Munson takes the reader back to Thurman’s

hardscrabble youth in Canton, where he was raised by a dismissive, impossible-to-please father who scoffed at his son’s baseball accomplishments and took perverse pleasure in pointing out his flaws. “Thurman didn’t want to go into those things,” Appel said. “I understood. But time has passed.”

Because he was a first-hand participant in Munson’s big-league career, Appel occasionally inserts himself into the narrative — and it works brilliantly. Though he might lack the literary chops of a Mark Kriegel or Leigh Montville or Jonathan Eig, three of the great sports biographers of this era, Appel — like Munson once did — makes up for any natural flaws with tenacity and intensity. He interviewed more than 150 people for the book, tracking down long-lost family members and childhood friends and forgotten teammates (Where have you gone, Tippy Martinez?).

Most poignant, Appel take a step-by-step, moment-by-moment look at Munson’s final minutes, when the Cessna Citation he was flying (Munson was a licensed pilot) crashed in at the Akron-Canton Regional Airport. The reader is left with the painful conclusion that the crash was Munson’s fault, but also with the knowledge that a man died doing what he loved. “I read over the book four times before I was ready to let it go,” Appel said. “And there were certain parts where, every time, my eyes welled up in tears. On the one hand, it seems like forever ago. On the other hand, it can feel like yesterday. His death stuck.”

In this modern age of major league baseball, with performance-enhancing drugs and ubiquitous corporate logos and outfield swimming pools and bottled quotes, it is easy to forget that the Yankees once had the anti-Jeter as a captain. That long ago image meant very little. Sometimes, it’s good to remember.

“This book will engross, entertain, enlighten and “touch” you all at the same time. It’s too bad that we had to wait 30 years for a book like this on Thurman Munson. But, now that it’s here, I cannot imagine a better one ever being done compared to the job Marty Appel did with “Munson: The Life and Death of a Yankee Captain.”

” {Appel} was a family member with an all-access pass. While reading Munson, one gets the feeling that Appel is doing more than just a splendid job relating stories and controversies of the Bronx Zoo and pre-Bronx Zoo eras.” — Trentonian (Billy Staples and Rick Herschlag)

“One of best baseball books ever written” — Howard Berk, former Yankees Vice President, author of “When My Boss Calls, Get The Name.”

“This is an incredible work for baseball fans who want to go behind the scenes and get an in depth look at the goings on of players, the media, and front office…. deserves to be in the Baseball Book Hall of Fame.” Andy Strasberg, co-author, Baseball’s Greatest Hit: Take Me Out to the Ballgame

“…this is a flat-out wonderful book about one of the great Yankee stars of the last four decades….offers a spectacular recounting of a decade that looks so much better from the rear-view mirror than it ever did at the time.” T.S. O’Connell, Sports Collectors Digest

“Appel’s book is worth a read for fans looking for a behind-scenes-look at a player and a baseball era that will forever remain compelling.” — Bill Littlefield, NPR’s “Only a Game.”

“The ages overlap. Posada and Varitek have not rolled in the dust and flailed at each other the way Munson and Carlton Fisk once did….Posada has heard the stories, some collected in the book sitting in his locker, “Munson: The Life and Death of a Yankee Captain,” by Marty Appel” – George Vecsey, New York Times, August 9, 2009

“….fantastic job reconnecting old friends and classmates….the seminal portion of the work is the painstaking detail it describes Munson’s final days…..the subsequent reaction by the Yankee organization, culminating in the emotional first game the day after…is also brilliant…..a fantastic work. – Marty Appel gave him his proper justice in this tremendous work.” — The Examiner.com

“…..despite being a Red Sox fan and always hating Munson…..I’m reading this book and liking it….” actor Denis Leary on “Mike and Mike in the Morning, ESPN.”

“…a best-selling biography, easily the best in a year filled with such tomes.” Dan Schlossberg, Sports Collectors Digest


“… for the last three decades or so, I’ve been waiting for the ultimate book covering the entire story of Thurman Munson. And, now, thanks to Marty Appel, with his new book…we have what I have been waiting for…all these years.”-Steve Lombardi, WasWatching.com

Marty Appel, with his new book…we have what I have been waiting for…all these years.”-Steve Lombardi, WasWatching.com

“….a labor of love and a love of labor, creating as it does an intimate portrait of one of the most under-rated and complex of Yankees.”-Harvey Frommer

“I know as Mets fans this is not the best time to talk about a book dealing with the Highlanders but MUNSON is a must read as Thurman Munson was a not only a revered Yankee but he was respected by everyone in the game.”-Kranepoolsociety.com

“There is no better authority than Appel to write this book and for a Yankee purist or a lover of the game, it is a very well-crafted read that will make you appreciate the hard work and grit that defined Thurman Munson, the great Yankee captain of the 1970s.”

“This book is for fathers and grandfathers. This is a book the average baseball fan should pick up. And of course for you Yankee fans, you will never get any closer to Thurman Munson.” -FatherofToo.com

“Appel has done a fantastic job clearing up his questions and showing us the many faces of Munson.”-PinstripeAlley.com

“….indispensable to both his fans and those too young to relate greatly to his story…. Appel’s access to the Yankees infrastructure lends itself to being able to relay “Inside Baseball” kinds of stories…compelling”-Behindthemoat.wordpress.com

“So vivid is Mr. Appel’s imagery and so precise are his details that it feels almost as if there is a film being played in your head as you read and you can see Thurman there, saying every word and making every movement. So great is Appel’s imagery that you almost forget the tragic way in which this story ends, you think that maybe if you just stop reading the outcome will change, but you know it cant be so.”-BronxBluebloods.com

“But, the one thing which cannot be denied is that MUNSON, beyond being a page-turner, is a wonderful gift to baseball fans of all ages and aegis…. “-subwaychatter.com

“….. once I picked this book up I just had to finish it.”-BehindtheBombers.com

“But, the one thing which cannot be denied is that MUNSON, beyond being a page-turner, is a wonderful gift to baseball fans of all ages and aegis…. “-subwaychatter.com

“….. once I picked this book up I just had to finish it.”-BehindtheBombers.com

“If you’re looking for some great baseball reading this summer, pick up a copy of Munson: The Life and Death of a Yankee Captain by Marty Appel. Even if you think you knew all there was to know about Munson, you’ll learn more from this book.” -Subway Squawkers.com

“…after reading Appel’s account, I feel gypped that I never got to see him play for myself….Reading this book is a treat, even for a younger generation of fans ….Marty Appel is a pro, and it’s apparent in Munson. ” -Newstadiuminsider.com

“… Appel beautifully outlines one of baseball’s most intriguing figures. No matter how old you are or what team you root for, this book is a must read for any baseball fan.” –BleacherReport.com

“If anyone’s looking for a complete, unvarnished look at Munson, Appel’s book gets it done. I highly recommend it.”-Confessions of a She-Fan

“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. Munson is excellent and an easy read. But be prepared for heartbreak.” Waybackgone.com

“If there were a Monument Park for books, this book would be in there, no question about it.” –BoogieDownBaseball.com

“….is definitely worth reading (for Thurman junkies or Yankee fans in general).” –RunDangerously.com

“The subject matter is about a Yankee legend, but the book tells a story that transcends fan allegiance. You don’t have to like Thurman Munson or the Yankees to enjoy this book. But you will gain greater understanding as to why Yankee fans hold Munson in high regard, and you’ll further cherish the fleeting memories that a baseball team and its players can give us.” –Always Amazing – Mets blog on NJ.com

“…. it’s terrific. If you want to learn more about {Thurman} and that era in team history, pick up a copy.” – Pete Abraham, LoHud Yankees Blog

“… a good read, and the book is not overwritten, so it comes off almost conversationally, as if you were sitting with the author listening to him recount Munson’s life.”
– The Yankees Universe

“….Munson continues to fascinate” – WomenAroundTown.com

“… it is an amazing read.” TheFowlBalls.com

“Jorge Posada played with a No. 15 decal on his mask in honor of Thurman Munson, whose funeral was 30 years ago today. ‘Just something I wanted to do,’he said. ‘He means a lot to me’. Posada is reading Marty Appel’s new book on Munson.” – LoHud Yankees Blog.

“Besides the anniversary of his death, Munson is back in the news this summer because of a compelling new biography written by Marty Appel,…. a superb read..” ScottPitoniak.com

“If you’re a fan of Munson, Appel’s book is a must-have. If you’re just a fan of the Yankees, the book is a should-have reference on the life and career of one of the most important Yankees of the last 40 years.” – Bruce Markuson, The Hardball Times

“Overall, “Munson” presents a comprehensive, and dignified portrayal of both the subject’s life and his death. Which, based on everything Appel tells us about Thurman Munson, is exactly the way he would have liked it.” – The Hardball Times

“….without the family’s active participation, the book somehow seems better balanced — respectful, at times perhaps a little too close to the subject, but also truthful and willing to look at the man’s life and circumstances of his plane-crash death on Aug. 2, 1979 more honestly. The 30 years of perspective surely helped with that, too.” – The IcepickCometh.wordpress.com

“It’s a great book….. It proves that Munson’s greatness can unite people, even if they bleed Red Sox crimson.” – America’s White Boy.com

” I was looking for a book to read and stumbled on Munson: The Life and Death of a Yankee Captain by Marty Appel, and was unable to put the book down. It’s a fascinating read…”-Randomthoughtsescaping.blogspot.com

” This book will engross, entertain, enlighten and “touch” you all at the same time. It’s too bad that we had to wait 30 years for a book like this on Thurman Munson. But, now that it’s here, I cannot imagine a better one ever being done compared to the job Marty Appel did with ‘Munson: The Life and Death of a Yankee Captain.'”- Best-sellingbooks.com

“I doubt there’s anyone better qualified to write the biography of the late catcher than Appel, who served the Yankees for many years, first as a PR director, later in television production. The contacts he has developed over the years would fill a small-town phone book.” – Ron Kaplan’s Bookshelf

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