Thirty nine years later, people still love to tell their own stories about our beloved Thurman Munson. So many years have passed yet the passion and love for this incredible sports hero just won’t fade.
In 1976, we got the Great Mickey Rivers and Ed Figueroa in a trade for Bobby Bonds. Bonds was a dynamic player that we got for another player that we all loved named Bobby Murcer. Even though Bonds would only play the 1975 season for the Yankees, in that season he would become one of the top three respected players on the team along with Munson and Catfish Hunter. He was a team player who learned how to properly play the game from his giant teammate Willie Mays.
Thurman really appreciated that about Bonds and also thought that it was great how Bonds idolized Mays. It sort of reminded Thurman of how Bobby Murcer hero worshiped Mickey Mantle.
One time during spring training in 1976, Thurman thought that Rivers may have been taking it just a little too easy, even for spring training and decided to get on his case. Sparks went off a little bit.
Mickey is the type of guy that even though he is one of the nicest guys ever, he still has a very strong temper if you get him to that point. Well that year after Thurman realized just how great Mickey really was, he would quietly get Mickey to that point just to get Rivers a game on the field as often as possible. Thurman realized that Rivers could be the key to the Yankees finally winning the pennant and as usual Thurman was so right.
Rivers was on base so much that it just opened the door for Munson to drive him in. Rivers and Munson would become our true “one-two punch” in that very potent lineup. By the time June and July rolled around Thurman was always quietly telling Rivers that if we continued this way that Rivers would be the most valuable player in the American League and Thurman really meant it. All Munson wanted to do was win and if that meant Mickey winning the MVP instead of him then he was all for it.
Well, the Yankees won their first pennant in the Steinbrenner era and both of these great players had great seasons. I can honestly say that when Thurman won the MVP he was a little disappointed for Mickey because he felt that if Rivers had won it, it would have been better for the team. Well, I can honestly say that Rivers was not disappointed at all because he won a bigger award: the respect and love of one of the most bigger-than-life Yankees ever. To this day, Rivers understands why Thurman rode him and pushed him so that he would be a better player for the Yankees dynasty of the seventies.
To this day, Mickey professes his love of Munson and misses him so very much.
I recently produced a play on the Yankees of that era. Mickey was the only real Yankee that I used. The rest were respected actors from Broadway, film, and television. There was a scene where Thurman dies and all the players were at the funeral crying. The actor that plays Bobby Murcer was Ciaran Sheehan, who played the Phantom of the Opera on Broadway.
Ciaran came over to me and said, “Rivers is one hell of an actor. He really convinced me that he was crying.” I said, “Ciaran he wasn’t acting he was reliving.”
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." For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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