For our Pinch Hitters series, Joe Nicoletti brings a perspective none of us at LoHud could possibly match. Joe is an insurance executive, born in the Bronx, raised in Westchester, and currently living in Connecticut. He’s a diehard Yankees and Jets fan — “I spend most of my free time sticking pins in my Tom Brady voodoo doll,” he wrote — and back in 1979, he was at Yankee Stadium for the game that followed Thurman Munson’s funeral. For his guest post, Nicoletti beautifully took us back to that night.
I’m sure any Yankee fan who was alive at the time remembers exactly where they were when they heard the news that Thurman Munson had been killed in a plane crash. I was 11 years old. For me, like so many other young Yankee fans during that time, losing an icon like Thurman Munson was a very traumatic experience.
I’ve attended numerous Opening Day, Playoff, and World Series games at Yankee Stadium over the past 35 years, but by far my greatest Yankee Stadium experience occurred on August 6th, 1979.
As many people already know, Bobby Murcer delivered one of the eulogies at Thurman Munson’s funeral earlier that day and then knocked in all five runs in a stirring 5-4 comeback victory over the Orioles on national television later that night.
The whole night was a very surreal experience. My father and I got to the park early for batting practice. The stands were pretty full, but the mood was very somber. Most of the people in the stands were talking about Thurman Munson (mostly in hushed tones). Many people were crying.
Ken Singleton played right field for the Orioles. He was very friendly with the fans before the game. He shagged fly balls and purposely botched some of the balls to give everyone a laugh. I remember thinking that he seemed like a really nice guy.
The Yankees were down 4-0 in the 7th inning. Bobby Murcer came up with two runners on and drilled a home run to right field to make it a 4-3 game. My father and I were sitting in the right field stands. As the home run ball sailed over our heads, I briefly contemplated throwing my glove at the ball (in those days, I brought my glove to every game) to knock it down, but I chickened out at the last second. I’ll never forget the vision of the laces on the ball spinning as it whizzed right over our heads.
When Murcer came up in the 9th inning with two runners in scoring position and the Yankees still trailing 4-3, it almost seemed inevitable that he would get a hit to win the game. When he did just that, the crowd erupted. It was so loud that you could actually feel the stadium shake.
After the game ended, the fans in the stadium didn’t want to leave. Everyone just kept clapping, partly for Bobby Murcer, but mostly for Thurman Munson. After a little while, Bobby came on to the field (in his socks) to thunderous applause.
Despite the fact that the outcome had very little effect on the standings (1979 was just not the Yankees’ year), this game provided me with a wonderful and lasting memory.
I’m not one for getting autographs, and I’ve never had the desire to meet or talk to players. Bobby Murcer was the exception, though. I always thought it would be great to talk with him sometime about that night. Years later, I did get the chance.
A few weeks after being diagnosed with brain cancer, Bobby Murcer was a guest on Michael Kay’s radio program. I called in and spoke to Bobby for a few minutes about that night. I thanked him for providing both me and my father with a very special memory. He was very gracious, and he told me how much he appreciated my phone call. He also told me how special that game was to him and how he gave the bat from that game to Thurman Munson’s widow, Diana.
It’s hard to believe that August 6th, 1979 was over 30 years ago. Either time flies, or I’m getting old.
Associated Press photo of Munson, pulled from this Star-Ledger story about Munson’s legacy