Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Captain

Thurman Munson died 33 years ago today.

If he hadn't died, how would things have progressed differently in Yankees history?

Would the Yankees have defended their World Series crown? Probably not, since they were 14 games out of first at the time of Munson's death. But they were 10 games over .500 and made a similar comeback the year before.

Would Munson have made the Hall of Fame? Maybe. As it is, he stands 14th among all-time catchers in career Wins Above Replacement (Baseball Reference version). If he had gotten lucky and aged well, put together a few more good seasons, and maybe added a World Series ring or two, he would have had a shot. His JAWS score (64.1) is shy of the average Hall of Fame catcher (79.9), but again, longevity would help there. He would probably have needed at least three more seasons of above-average offense to be a solid HOF candidate.

Whither Rick Cerone? The Yankees traded for Cerone prior to the 1980 season, and he gave them one decent year before putting together a string of miserable offensive seasons. He made an entertaining broadcast partner for Phil Rizzuto, but the Yankees would have been better off using Damaso Garcia and Chris Chambliss as trade bait for someone else.

How would Yankees history have played out differently? Probably vastly. Given the upgrade Munson represented over Cerone, it's entirely likely the Yankees would have added a ring in either 1980 or 1981, years in which they lost close playoffs series. Then, would George Steinbrenner have been so willing to let Reggie Jackson leave? So eager to sign Dave Winfield? Would the team have bottomed out in 1982 like they did, going through three managers in one season? Would Munson's leadership (he was the original Captain Intangibles) have saved the Yankees? Or would his combustible, abrasive qualities led to locker room destruction? It's impossible to say.

Would The Psycho Fan have named his dog Thurman? Definitely not.