THURMAN MUNSON, the Yankee catcher, was buried Monday, four days after his private plane crashed near his home town of Canton, Ohio. Those four days were filled with a special kind of mourning, and the mourning continues, not only for the gruff, horse-necked hero of a famous baseball team, nor even for the ordinarily heartbreaking spectacle of an athlete dying young. The mourning in Munson's case is deep because he died in mid-season, as in mid-flight. And there is something cruel and bewildering about seeing momentum broken that way, like watching someone hurtling impassioned toward something he wants, only to have him obliterated out of the blue.
Oddly, that cruel breaking of momentum is the basis of comedy - at least it was in the mind of Henri Bergson, the philosopher of comedy, who theorized that what makes us laugh hardest is an abrupt and unanticipated change of direction, such as a pratfall or pie in the face. Just how close comedy and tragedy can come is one of the things Mr. Munson's death has shown, as he death was genuinely tragic. No man is more alive and part of a baseball game than a catcher. The very title of his job incorporates the heart of the sport.When a catcher dies the game stops cold, and the tears that have been shed at Mr. Munson's death have to do with that, with the fact that the "backstop," the charging end of the "battery," has been removed from play.
But the tears are mainly for Mr. Munson, who was not merely a position but a man, a growly, old-fashioned man of 32, on whom his teammates relied for balance and power.