August 2, 2016 is the 37th anniversary since the great Yankee catcher and team captain – even though he would not permit you to call him that because he wanted to be like everybody else – died in a tragic airplane crash.
This past Old Timers Day, I walking through the suite section of Yankee Stadium when about 100 feet in front of me I saw two recognizable figures. The woman was definitely Diana Munson and all of a sudden I got the chills because the man next to her had a striking resemblance to Thurman Munson. By the time we were face to face my eyes were filled with tears. The man was Thurman’s son, Michael. Without saying a word the three of us hugged and Diane said, “He looks like his dad doesn’t he?” I quickly nodded “yes” because I couldn’t speak. She asked me if I still think of Thurman and I responded, “Every day!”
I was recently watching Bob Costas interviewing Reggie Jackson on the MLB network. Reggie was asked if he regrets not being friends with Thurman Munson. Knowing Mr. October the way that I do, I knew that the question really bothered Reggie. Just like Game 6 of the 1977 World Series, Reggie was ready to respond. “There is a guy still with the Yankees today by the name of Ray Negron. He set up a lunch for Thurman and me so that we could settle our differences,” Reggie responded. After that lunch, I can honestly say that Reggie and Thurman became very good friends. I remember the two of them talking during that lunch about life in general and about how they grew up.
The good, the bad and the ugly.
When Thurman started to fly he brought Reggie along on a flight or two. When the Yankees went on the road and I was escorting the team, Reggie would have me put Thurman’s car in his personal garage. When we won the 1978 World Series, Thurman went out of his way to find Reggie in the crowded clubhouse in Los Angeles, to be able to have a toast. The clubhouse was crowded and public but when their eyes met you could tell that the toast was very private, personal and more importantly, happy.
Exactly one year earlier, Reggie would hit three home runs in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series and at the end of the night, Thurman went by Reggie’s locker and said to him, “You sure put on one hell of a show Mr. October.” They both laughed and Reggie said, “Mr. October… wow I like that nickname and Thurman with a big grin responded, “You can keep the name, no charge.” That had to be Thurman’s best gift to Reggie. The name Mr. October and a true and honest friendship that I know Reggie cherishes to this day.
Tom Hanks once said in the baseball movie A League of their Own, “There’s no crying in baseball.” If Tom Hanks had known Thurman Munson, even he would have cried. When Thurman died we had a team meeting the next day. I was sitting on the floor in the clubhouse and witnessed George Steinbrenner, who loved Thurman like a son, tell the team how Thurman had died and he started hysterically crying. I saw Bobby Murcer try to take over for the Boss, but the pain was too much and he also broke down in tears. At that point, Reggie stood up and quoted some strong words from the Bible and I looked over at Billy Martin, who was silent with his glasses on to hide his swollen tear-filled eyes, and my other heroes and realized that it was okay to cry. That day there was crying in baseball.
Thurman Munson we still love you and miss you so much.
Ray Negron is a sports executive with over 40 years of experience in baseball. His first job came from a chance encounter with George Steinbrenner as a youth. He has become an American film producer, a best-selling author, and a philanthropist. His memoir is entitled, “Yankee Miracles: Life with the Boss and the Bronx Bombers.” He also writes for NEWSMAX. To read Ray’s archive, Go Here Now.