On the evening of Aug. 2, 1979, I was in a bunk at Ted Williams Baseball Camp in Lakeville, Mass., tossing a ball into the glove on my left hand, when a counselor walked in and announced that Thurman Munson's plane had gone down and that the Yankees' catcher was dead. He was 32 years old, a seven-time All-Star and two-time World Series winner, the snarling captain of baseball's best and most colorful team. If you were a fan then, chances are you remember where you were when you found out, too.
Few though were as close to the tragedy as Marty Appel, then the Yankees' public relations director. In Munson: The Life and Death of a Yankee Captain, Appel provides a rich inside look into the catcher's professional career. This isn't a tell-all book—there's often a sense that Appel is holding back things he might at another time reveal. But we watch as Munson starts out 1 for 30 after being called up as a 22-year-old. (Shortstop Gene Michael remembers Munson sitting on his hotel bed, "really despondent. He didn't even want to go to eat.") We see owner George Steinbrenner applying not-so-subtle pressure on manager Billy Martin to name Munson the first Yankees captain since Lou Gehrig. We're with Munson when he accepts the 1976 American League MVP award. We track Munson's increasing cantankerousness with the media, and we see his passion for flying his private plane intensify.
Regardless of whether or how well you recall Thurman Munson or the impact of his career and his sudden death, Appel's book can at times make you feel as if you had a front-row seat to it all.