Karpin’s Korner: Munson Belongs In The Hall

Former Yankees’ catcher Thurman Munson was a Hall of Fame player and should now take his rightful place in Cooperstown.

The 2020 Modern Baseball Era Ballot was released and Munson is one of nine players who, along with former Union head Marvin Miller, will be voted on for induction into the Hall of Fame. Members of the HOF, executives and veteran media make up the 16-person Committee that will vote, 12 votes are needed for induction.

The cynics say Munson didn’t do enough to warrant induction into the Hall of Fame but I say he does belong, so I’ll make my case and I can make it because I saw him play his entire career.

Let’s start with this. After the great Hall of Famer Johnny Bench, Munson was the second best catcher of his era. No other catcher compares to Bench, but that doesn’t mean Munson was not a Hall of Famer.

Munson was the “backbone” of the Yankee team that won three straight pennants and two World Championships in the 1970’s. Yes, Reggie Jackson was the final piece that put the Yanks over the top at that time, but Munson was the “straw that stirred the drink.”

Munson was a seven-time All Star, three-time Gold Glove winner, 1970 AL Rookie of the Year Award winner and the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 1976, when the Yankees won their first AL Pennant in 12 years. He was a great clutch hitter (career .302 mark with RISP) with an uncanny ability to go the other way to drive in a run.

Munson played in six post-season series and posted a career slash line of .357/.378/.496. While the Yankees were being swept by the Reds in the 1976 World Series, Munson hit an “out of this world” .529. In game 3 of the 1978 ALCS vs. Kansas City, Hall of Famer George Brett’s three home run game was overshadowed by Munson’s three run, eighth inning home run off of Royals pitcher Doug Bird that gave the Yanks a 6-5 win and a 2-1 lead in the Series.

The home run was memorable for a couple of reasons. One, the Yankees went on to win their second straight World Series to complete the great comeback of 1978. The other reason was that Munson was playing with a bad shoulder, and yet he powered this home run over the old “death valley” distance of 430 feet in left center field. Munson’s toughness and grit was legendary.

His defense tends to be overlooked but, before he had a bum shoulder, Munson had a great arm and was one of the best at throwing out potential base stealers. By the way, his career percentage for throwing out potential base stealers is an outstanding 44%.

Speaking of Yankee catchers, is Gary Sanchez really a full time catcher?

Despite the Yankees citing that his defensive statistics improved this season, Sanchez went backwards defensively in the post season and that may have affected his hitting.

Sanchez is a player who takes his defense into the batter’s box and when he’s not going good with the glove, the bat tends to suffer.

There was a narrative during the post season that Sanchez was being overloaded with information and that he was so concerned about his defense and his handling of the pitchers, that he lost focus on offense, thus leading to the poor production. If you noticed, Sanchez kept referring to a chart on his wrist that told him what pitches to call. If an overload was causing a problem, why didn’t the Yankees just call the pitches from the bench?

From a physical standpoint, Sanchez will never be a solid, defensive catcher. He’s a big kid with big legs and he doesn’t move well behind the plate. Despite his so called improvement last season, Sanchez has trouble blocking pitches in the dirt and you have to wonder how the pitchers feel about that.

The Yankees hired former Twins minor league catching coordinator Tanner Swanson to be their catching and quality control coach (whatever that means) to work with Sanchez. If the 26 year old improved defensively last season, why the need to bring in a different catching instructor. Jason Brown was the catching coach last season.

The Yankees need to find out once and for all if Sanchez can be their catcher of the future. Let’s just say, I have my doubts.

Sanchez’ bat is what will keep him in the big leagues. Maybe he would be better served learning another position like first base.

Mets need a CF and there’s not much out there in free agency (not that the Mets would spend to fill a need) so they would probably have to go the trade route to fill that hole.

NY Post columnist Joel Sherman speculated that the Mets could potentially swing a deal with the Rays for Kevin Kiermaier. Tampa Bay is enamored with Jeff McNeil but it would take more than just Kiermaier to consummate a deal. Many will point to the gold glover Kiermaier being just like Juan Lagares (who was let go by the Mets) in that he’s a “good field, no hit” type player.

Red Sox CF Jackie Bradley Jr has been mentioned but I put him in the same boat as Lagares and Kiermaier. Pirates OF Starling Marte could be put on the block. Marte is 31 years old but if I’m the Mets, I look into that.

Next week is Major League Baseball’s Awards week:

Here are my predictions:

NL Rookie of the Year: Mets 1B Pete Alonso (duh!)
AL Rookie of the Year: Astros DH Yordan Alvarez

NL Manager of the Year: Cardinals Mike Shildt
AL Manager of the Year: Rays Kevin Cash

NL Cy Young Award: Mets Jacob deGrom
AL Cy Young Award: Astros Gerrit Cole

AL MVP: Angels OF Mike Trout (although I disagree with this selection)
NL MVP: Nationals 3B Anthony Rendon

With the Red Sox desire to “reset” their payroll, you have to figure that they will put Mookie Betts on the trade block to weigh what kind of offers they would receive for the former MVP. Betts will be a free agent after next season and the consensus is that he will test the market, so that puts any team, that would consider trading for him, in a tough spot. Red Sox GM Chaim Bloom is also in a tough spot so this situation bears watching as we go further into the off season.

Betts is going into his final year of arbitration and is projected to earn $28 million dollars next season. Last season, the 27 year old’s numbers dropped off from his MVP season in 2017 but you can chalk that up to simply having a down year and not that his career is heading downward. There’s still plenty of upside there. If only the Mets felt the same.

“Karpin’s Korner” appears every Friday on nysportsday.com

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