I became a Yankees fan in 1973. And, my first favorite Yankees player was Thurman Munson.
In the summer of 1975, I came down with a bad case of mononucleosis. Due to that, I was housebound for eight weeks at the end of the summer with a fever. That’s a tough break for a 12-year old (as I was at that time). I caught it, of all places, in Little League.
Back in that day, during games, we all shared the same water jug. Basically, it was a big empty plastic one-gallon milk jug that the coach filled with water before the game and kept in the dugout. By the third inning or so, the water was usually piss warm. But, that’s what we used, back then, to keep hydrated during the game – with each player on the team taking a swig from the communal jug when we needed to wet our whistle. I guess we were all too stupid in the ’70′s to understand the concept of backwash? In any event, that’s where I caught mono.
My father and I have a great relationship – and always had one. But, it was once I got into baseball where it took on another fun dimension. When I was young, just like two baseball players, we would needle each other – as much as possible. (And, this was when “needle” meant something different from what it means today in baseball.) When I was twelve, my father was thirty-eight. So, there we were: Two young guys, both Yankees fans, doing what guys do when they’re hanging out during a baseball season.
Now, even though my father was/is a Yankees fan, the aforementioned urge to bust chops on his son superceded his outward loyality to the team. And, since Thurman Munson was my favorite player, back in the day, any chance that “Pop” had to ride me about Munson, and/or my devotion towards him, it was coming – in a good natured, loving, way…of course.
So, here I am, in August of 1975, trapped in the house and losing my mind because of my illness – and, remember, these were the days where T.V. in New York was limited to six commerical channels, and that’s it! – bored beyond belief. And, one afternoon, the mail arrives with a letter addressed to me – but with a return address of my father’s employer.
That was strange. Nonetheless, I opened the envelope and found a note inside that read “To Steve, Thanks for being such a good fan. My best regards, Thurman Munson, N,Y. Yankees.”
Hey, I was twelve – but I wasn’t brainless, at least totally. Seeing the envelope, with my dad’s place of work as the return address, I figured that my father was pranking me with the letter – and I tossed it into the kitchen trash can.
A few hours later, my father came home from work and I quickly went at him with (something like) “Nice try there today. I got that letter that you wrote – pretending to be Munson. You didn’t fool me. I threw it out.” Hearing this, he said to me “You did what? That wasn’t a fake! Where is it? Did you really toss it?”
Since my older sister and I were the only ones at home during the day, sans when my mother came home on her work lunch-break to check on us, there wasn’t a lot of garbage being created – and, when my father got home, the “Munson letter” was still near the top of the trash in the can. (My sister is 4 1/2 years older than me – but, she was skipped twice in grammar school. So, by this time, she was hanging with an older crowd and out of the house during parts of the day, enjoying her summer.)
Since the letter was retrievable, I was able to pull it out of the trash pile and show my father. Nonetheless, I still didn’t believe him – even after what he said.
But, as I stood there, in the kitchen, with the rescued letter in hand, he then explained the whole thing to me – in detail.
Since I was practically bedridden, and so down in the dumps, he took a shot and wrote a letter to Munson – explaining how his 12-year old kid was sick in the house, losing his summer, and how all he (meaning my dad) heard, all day long, day after day, was “Munson-this” and “Munson-that.” And, in the letter, my father explained how it would be a huge thrill for me to have his autograph. Further, to make it simple, with his letter, my father enclosed a blank sheet of paper, a pen, and a self-addressed stamped envelope – and that’s why, when the letter arrived to me, it came in an envelope with his employer’s information on the return address (as he was at work when he wrote and sent the letter, etc.).
Well, while I don’t remember for sure, I probably soiled myself, a little, when it all finally sank in that this was an actual letter from Thurman Munson. And, to think how close I came to tossing it away. (Thank the baseball gods for the fact that, when I put it in the trash, I didn’t tear it up or place it on something wet or that would stain it.) Keep in mind that I was 12-years old here – and how important your baseball idols are to you at an age like that.
I quickly added that letter to the Munson shrine that I had going in my room. The “shrine” was a Snoopy Bulletin Board where I had thumb-tacked Munson’s Topps baseball cards from 1973, 1974 and 1975 – along with some photos of Thurman that I had cut out of the newspaper, programs and yearbooks. (Back then, we didn’t know you were supposed to save those things and keep them pristine.) It wasn’t until Munson’s death that I eventually moved all that stuff into a scrapbook. Of course, by then, the autographed letter had yellowed with age.
But, today, I still have it. Here it is, cleaned up a bit via a photo editing program:
[Click on image to enlarge]
On my way over to see my father this past Saturday, to celebrate Father’s Day with him, a day early, I thought about this story for the first time in a long time. Personally, I think it’s pretty cool. And, I hope, someday, I’ll have a similar type baseball/Yankees-related event that I can share with my kids (now ages 5 and 7) that they can look back on, thirty four years later, and enjoy it as much then as when it first happened…like me, now.