August 2nd will always be a very difficult day for me. It’s the day that the great Yankee catcher, leader, and my friend, Thurman Munson died in an airplane crash in 1979.
If you knew Thurman I can guarantee you that you would have loved him. He was a very proud and strong leader on the field and in the clubhouse, he was always our best friend and big brother.
I will never forget that in the 70s they didn’t give away equipment and baseball shoes the way they do now so many times players, especially young players who didn’t make much money had to buy their own shoes. One time we were playing the Detroit Tigers and a rookie by the name of Lynn Jones was hitting. Munson noticed that Jones’s spikes were beaten up, so after the game, Thurman gave me a new pair of shoes and told me to give them to Jones.
When I gave them to Jones he acted as if I had given him a thousand dollars. He was so happy, more so because they came from Thurman. It was a gesture that Jones never forgot.
This weekend we celebrated old timers day. It was wonderful to see all my guys from that era including Bucky Dent and Mickey Rivers and Ron Guidry and others. We even got to see Bobby Murcer’s wife, Kay and Billy Martin’s wife, Jill and of course, Diana Munson who has been the most gracious and caring Yankee wife that I have ever known. Don’t forget that I even got to know Claire Ruth and Eleanor Gehrig (the wives of Babe & Lou). Diana has truly been a big sister to me throughout the years.
At Thurman’s funeral in 1979 Diana literally helped me breathe when I couldn’t just by telling me how much Thurman loved me.
I couldn’t have a more loving friend and I’m so grateful to her.
During the last four years, I have been doing a play called Batboy. It’s about my life with the Yankees. Naturally, the strongest part of the show is about Thurman and his love for Diana and family. All proceeds go to different charities. We have done approximately thirty shows during that time. The first actor to portray Thurman was the star of Knotts Landing, Joey Gian. This September we will be doing our first show at the Yogi Berra Museum and the great philanthropist Lou Bernardi will do the role of Thurman Munson. The reason I decided to pursue Bernardi for the role was because he has shown me many attributes that remind me of Thurman. I have seen the thousands of kids to whom he has extended his hand and heart to. I have seen him make sure that many people that would not have had a proper Christmas actually have one. When I went to him and asked him to do this for me he said yes right away. When I asked him why was he so excited about doing the Munson role he said because even though he has never seen him play that Thurman was an idol because of everything that he had always heard about the man as a player but more importantly as a man of those in need.
I have to tell you that I have known Lou for several years now and I can honestly say that if Thurman Munson knew Lou he would be proud that Lou was portraying him on stage. We will also have Robert Bruzio, a terrific actor and screenwriter (Bottom of the ninth) playing the part of Bobby Murcer and Dave Revels from the Drifters as Elston Howard. Steve Vaccaro plays the Marshmallow salesman. Ralph Bracco was Joe Torre in the Derek Jeter documentary and plays Billy Martin here. Luis Squeegee Castillo is powerful as cousin Edwin. Gigi Cormio becomes Diana Munson. Mike Longo is convincing as Steinbrenner goon. Tyrell Carpenter is a strong Reggie Jackson. Fresh from his Broadway run at 54 Bellow is Carmine Elvezio playing Ray the Batboy!
Our first show this year will be on September 19th at the Yogi Berra Museum in Montclair New Jersey at 7 pm.