He looks fat - but he isn't.
he looks mean - and he is.
His name should be Thurman "Monster." He is baseball's Archie Bunker - 210 pounds of malice on the hoof. Irascible. Cantankerous, Grumpy in Snow White was a cock-eyed optimist by comparison.
He is Carroll O'Connor in mask and chest protector. The world is full of meatheads. He can't get away from them. They're always making impossible demands on his time, asking him stupid questions interfering hopelessly with his right to be cranky and contentious.
The trouble is, he is a great baseball player. Thurman Munson, catcher, MVP, 300 hitter. He is the captain of the New York Yankees in one of history's great mistakes. A captain sets the tone for his outfit and the tone Thurman sets is "Get the . . . outta here!" He is the team's designated grouch, a he-man who wants to hunt and drink beer - and play baseball. He has the nice even disposition of a bear with a thorn in its paw.
He is the first Yankee captain since Lou Gehrig, but don't look for any sentimental movies on Thurman Munson. Munson leads by surliness. Still, underneath that grumpy exterior lies a grumpy interior. A heart of flint.
Munson is playing in this World Series with a lump the size of a goose egg in his shoulder. His feet hurt, his teeth ache and the years of squatting his ursine bulk behind a batter's box have given him more creaks than a haunted house.
No wonder he can't find anything to smile about. But Thurman Munson also is sure the world is out to get him. In the 1976 World Series, he got 10 hits in only four games and then moved into the media room to hear the Cincinnati manager, victorious in four straight, say "Don't embarrass Munson or anybody by comparing him to Johnny Bench." Munson blew off like a No. 2 boiler in a sinking ship.
Then management moved Reggie Jackson as the resident star of the Yankee team after Munson had given eight of the best years of his life to the organization. They named a candy the city and gave him more money bar after Reggie, gave him the keys to than anyone on the Yankees - and most off the. He threatened to quit, to go to Cleveland - any direction to get out of the same locker room as Reggie Jackson.
But Babe Ruth and Gehrig didn't speak for years and the situation was not considered serious - although it was a strange role for a captain. Or even a sergeant. The captain sometimes seemed to be leading a mutiny, not an offensive.
Thurman Munson was not having a very good World Series. He hit into a double pay his first time, struck out the next and went 0 for 4 in the opener. In Game 3, he struck out twice wice. In Game 3, he struck out twice more before he got a cheap hit off an infielder's glove. For once, he had good reason to be grouchy.
This reporter approached Munson at the batting cage here. "If I asked you if you were as grouchy and unapproachable as you seem, would you respond?"
"It depends on what other stupid questions you ask," growled Munson with all the warmth of a grizzly awakended early from hibernation.
"The media is just trying that Thurman Munson called a good game, got a few hits and the team won?" barked Munson. He considered the discussion closed.
How about his shoulder? "I never discuss injuries," snapped Munson.
The worst thing that was happening to Thurman Munson was that the Los Angeles Dodgers felt they could run on him. And after he bounced a couple of throws to second, they were sure of it. Munson seethed. Munson always seethes. Vesuvius is a camp fire compared to Thurman in full furious eruption.
In Game 4, he turned back into the captain of the Yankees. Munson the Magnificent, not Munson the Malice or Menace. In the first inning, he crushed a hit to right which should have had a run driven in - except that Paul Blair slid late and inaccurately. Munson then walked twice.
The drama of Game 4 of the Series was the phantom play at second base in the sixth inning. The score was 3-1. Munson was on second base, Jackson was on first - and Lou Piniella hit a low line drive to shortstop. Bill Russell bobbled it either purposely or accidentally, stepped on second and threw to first - where his throw hit Reggie Jackson and spun off to the foul-line fence.
The point is, Thurman Munson came all the way home on the play. He let the lawyers argue the fine points of the play - did Jackson purposely interfere, should a double-play. He let the lawyers argue the fine points of the play - did Jackson purposely interfere, should a double-play be recorded, should the infield fly be invoked, or intentional-dropping? The captain just made sure be touched home plate with the all-important second run.
In the eighth inning the Captain Courageous came up with Roy White on second; one out - and he drilled a Thurman Munson double down the left field line. The score was tied. The Yankees would win in 10 innings. The scorebook says they would have lost, 3-1, without Munson's two plays.
After the game, the heroes of the game assembled in the interview area. Thurman Munson was not among them. He wasn't looking for a ticket-tape reception; his name in the papers, a quote on how it feels to turn a game and maybe a Series around.
Thurman Munson was lying on a rubbing table in the trainer's room, sucking on a bottle of beer and the sign on the door said "No Admittance - Yankee Players Only."
A reporter stood in the doorway to the forbidden land. "Will you be coming out?" he called in.
"I doubt it," said Munson affably.
"Well, can I ask you questions from here?"
"You can through my interpreter here," Munson said, waving the beer bottle in the direction of the pitcher Dick Tidrow.
"Will you ask him what kind of a pitch he hit, interpreter?" called the reporter.
"Munson disdained the middle man. "It was a slider away," said Munson. "And I didn't mean to hit it."
The reporter started another question. A Yankee trainer moved in menacingly. The Yankee tradition; some say dating from other captain. Lou Gehrig, is that the trainer's room is hallowed ground, never befouled by the round heels or raggedy tweeds of a sportswriter. "You have to stop asking questions, he needs rest, he'll be out in 10 minutes."
"Will you, Thurman?" he was asked.
"But I'm smack on deadline. I don't have much time." Munson looked almost pleased at the news.
"That's swell," he said.