Yankees: Kobe Bryant’s death hits Bombers close to home

Brett Gardner,Curtris Granderson, Nick Swisher, Thurman Munson, New York Yankees. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Brett Gardner,Curtris Granderson, Nick Swisher, Thurman Munson, New York Yankees. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /

Kobe Bryant’s death has shocked the sports world. For long-time New York Yankees fans, it was an all too familiar feeling. 40 years ago, team captain Thurman Munson died in a plane crash.

Sunday was a day that rocked the sports world. NBA all-time great Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash with his daughter Gianna and seven others north of Los Angeles. They were on their way to Kobe’s Mamba Academy for Gianna’s game in Thousand Oaks, California. For those Metropolitan Area fans, especially New York Yankees fans old enough to remember, it reminded them of another terrible crash just over 40 years ago.

On August 2, 1979, the New York Yankees were 10 games over .500 at 58-48. They were 14 games behind the eventual American League Champion Baltimore Orioles and had an off day. Catcher and team captain Thurman Munson flew home to his family in Canton, Ohio. He was practicing takeoffs and landings in the Cessna airplane he purchased the previous year. On one of the landing attempts, he stalled and clipped a tree causing the plane to crash and catch fire. Munson died of his injuries.

I was a little kid but I remember being absolutely stunned. A tragedy like that never occurred to me. Munson was only 32. I wasn’t the only one. As news of the tragedy broke, it was surreal to see television stations break into regularly scheduled programming to broadcast the latest information.

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His death shocked the entire area. Thurman Munson was one of the most beloved Yankees since Mickey Mantle. He was not only the team captain but also the heart and soul of the New York Yankees squads that had won the three previous World Championships.

Life goes on and so does baseball. August 3rd the Bombers took the field at Yankee Stadium without a catcher. There was a short ceremony (shown in the video below) that included Cardinal Terrence Cook. After it ended, catcher Jerry Narron came out of the dugout to start the game. Three days later, the team flew to Canton for the funeral in the morning and then back to play O’s that evening. Centerfielder Bobby Murcer, who gave the eulogy, drove in all the Yankees runs in a 5-4 come from behind victory.

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It’s deaths like Munson’s then and now Bryant’s that puts sports into perspective. The irony of it all is that both men used aircraft, at the time of their deaths, because they wanted to spend more time with their respective families.