Billy-Ball Daily: 2007-6-7

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Bill Chuck (Billy-Ball his own self)

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

Top of the 1st
A working class hero is something to be.
A working class hero is something to be.
John Lennon

When you look at pictures of ballplayers from the 1930’s, `40’s, `50’s, and even the `60’s they have the look of what John Lennon described as a “working class heroes.” They could have fit in just as easily working in the coal mines, picking up your trash, or helping you out at Home Depot, as they fit in their baseball uniform. But by the latter half of the 1960’s on, ballplayers started stylin’. They had a look of celebrity, they were fashion conscious, they used hair dryers.

Thurman Munson, the first Yankee captain since Lou Gehrig, wanted to be that new athlete, he wasn’t. He had a droopy mustache, curly hair and the 1970 American League Rookie of Year was built like the catcher that he was. There is no better way to describe him than through his nicknames, Tugboat, Squatty Body, or The Wall. He didn’t have the flair of Reggie Jackson or the chiseled good looks of Carlton Fisk, both his rivals, but no matter what he looked like, the man could play baseball.

Munson led the Yankees to three straight AL titles (1976-78) and two World Series crowns (1977-78). He was the AL MVP in 1976, a seven-time All-Star, winner of three Gold Gloves and in 11 seasons with the Yankees, he batted .292 with 701 runs batted in and 1,558 hits with 113 homers. He committed only 127 errors in his career and just one in 117 games behind the plate during the 1971 season and that was only when the ball was dislodged on a collision at the plate.

Munson would have been 60 today.

Would have been.

On August 1, 1979, in Chicago, Munson was playing first and walked his first time up, scoring on Reggie Jackson’s homer. Lou Piniella then went back-to-back. After Munson struck out against the White Sox’ Ken Kravec in the top of the 3rd, he was given the rest of the afternoon off.

After the game, Bobby Murcer, Munson’s close friend, drove him to a small Chicago-area airport. He was flying home for the off-day. Murcer recalled for, “He revved the engines up and took off, and actually just took off above me where I was sitting in my car. It was night time, I could not believe that Thurman was actually in that powerful machine all by himself, you know. And the darkness of the night.”

The next afternoon Munson went back to Akron-Canton Regional Airport, to practice takeoffs and landings in his new Cessna Citation 501. He had bought this blue and white seven-seat, twin-engine, million-dollar jet on July 6, and was certified to fly it on July 17, 1979. It was inscribed with his Yankee number, “N15NY.”

In a year and a half of flying, Munson bought four planes, but this one was big and powerful “Too powerful. I mean, it scared me,” Lou Piniella, perhaps his closest friend, told

At the airport that day, he met Jerry Anderson and David Hall, and showed off the new plane. Munson invited the two men for a short flight aboard N15NY. It lasted less than half an hour. At 3:41 p.m., Munson, cleared by the control tower for takeoff and he performed routine landings and takeoffs.

After the third takeoff, the tower instructed Munson to shift to a right traffic pattern. Here is the first person account they described to –

“”David and I both noticed the same thing — that we were a little bit lower than what we had been on previous landings. No big deal,” Anderson said. “On final approach, you always have to adjust upwards or downwards.”

Recognition changed to concern.

“We were now descending towards 1-9 relatively rapidly. And I felt a sinking.”

The plane dropped to roughly 500 feet above the ground. Munson lowered the landing gear, causing the descent to steepen.

“I realized that this descent was probably not going to be arrested and that we would probably crash short of the runway,” Anderson said. “You had a second to prepare yourself. A second to prepare yourself for impact.”

At 4:02 p.m., the plane struck ground about 1,000 feet short of runway 1-9 in a field dotted with small trees.

“I felt the fuselage just taking the pounding, BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!” Anderson claps as he accentuates the recollection of each impact.

After skidding through the field and slamming into an immense tree stump, the plane came to rest atop a two-lane road, some 600 feet short of runway 1-9. Munson’s legs were pinned. He was bloody, but conscious.

“I realized, as we came to a stop, that I was still intact. I mean, unbelievable as it might seem, I thought, ‘My God, I have survived this,’ Anderson said. “I looked up to the cockpit, David was moving, and Thurman’s head was twisted a little bit. I thought, ‘This is unbelievable. We are going to walk away from this airplane. We have just crashed an airplane, and we have all survived.’

“Things didn’t quite go like my mind had initially thought. The right side of the aircraft was engulfed in flames, but I was feeling pretty good about it, because the right side of the aircraft was not the side of the aircraft we needed to go out. The door was on the left side. And the left side was relatively clear. I didn’t see any smoke or flames there.”

The left side, with the accessible door, was Anderson’s side.

“What I quickly realized is, I could not get it open. The door had jammed. David came back, and he gave it a try, and he couldn’t get it open either. I took a good solid kick at it. And now, as I think about it, it was probably ridiculous that I thought I should have been able to kick open that door.

“At that point, the aircraft has started to fill with smoke.

“I will hang on this for a long time … Thurman mumbled to us. He said, ‘Are you guys OK?’ At this point, he said, ‘Are you guys OK?’ We said, ‘Yeah.’ I don’t remember whether David said it, or I said it. But one of us said, ‘How about you?’ He said, ‘I don’t know. I can’t move. I can’t move.’ “

Those were the final words of Munson’s life. But Anderson, of course, did not know it.

“Almost instinctively, David and I split up the responsibilities. I was closest to the door. Obviously, I needed to get us out of there. He was closest to Thurman, he was going to lift Thurman up. We felt that we could probably collectively get him out of there.

“The communication that we had — and this is all in seconds — was let’s go, let’s get us all out of here.”

With the main door jammed, the only escape route was an emergency exit on the right.

“When I cracked the emergency door, flames shot in and above our heads into the cockpit,” said Anderson of an area that’s only about four feet wide.

There was still hope for the passengers to rescue the pilot.

“We are going to get him out of there. We are just going to haul him out. I mean, it’s no big deal. There are two of us, there is one of him,” Anderson said. “But what I quickly realized was, when the flames came into the cockpit, and started to catch fire in the air, the black smoke was so overtaking, we couldn’t really breathe. At that point, we didn’t have a choice.”

Munson was unconscious. Just minutes after the crash, time was running out on the efforts to move him toward the emergency exit.

Without discussion, a decision: Escape.

“Unspoken word. I pulled the emergency door into the cockpit … and pretty much dove into the puddle of fuel that was on fire on the right side.

“As I was departing the aircraft, David gave one last tug on Thurman, and he couldn’t move him. Neither one of us could move him. David followed me, right outside that door. I rolled around on the ground for a moment, and then was unconscious. I don’t really remember anything after that, until waking up in the hospital.

“The hard part of that, of course, is that there was a point in time that I knew that I was going to leave that airplane, and that my friend was not. And that was a terrible feeling.”

Munson, his neck broken from the impact of the crash, overcome by heat and smoke, was pronounced dead at the scene.”

He was 32.

On August 3, the bereft Yankees hosted the Baltimore Orioles. As the Yankees took the field, they all ran to their positions, but the catcher’s box remained vacant. Yankee Stadium announcer Bob Sheppard called for a moment of silence. It lasted only a moment because the Yankee Stadium fans clapped for 10 minutes to show their love and respect.

On August 6, the Yankees were hosting ABC Monday Night Baseball against the Orioles, but that was secondary to Munson’s Ohio funeral. More than 500 people came to support his wife Diana, his childhood sweetheart and their three children, including all the Yankees, as well as numerous other baseball luminaries and former teammates. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn was there and Mets manager Joe Torre was there as well. So were AL umpires Rich Garcia and Bill Haller They knew they might not get back in time for the game and that would mean a forfeit, but they also knew their priorities. Lou Piniella read from Ecclesiastics and Bobby Murcer quoted Angelo Patri, “The life of a soul on earth lasts beyond departure. You will always feel that life touching yours, that voice speaking to you. He lives on in your life and in the lives of all others that knew him.”

The Yankees got back in time to play the game. Ron Guidry told the New York Times, “The first time I got to the mound, and I looked around, there was something missing.” The Yanks fell behind 4-0, but in the 7th inning Murcer hit a three-run homer off Dennis Martinez. In the 9th, his two-run single, won it 5-4 for the Yankees and Munson.

Today there is a plaque in Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park with George Steinbrenner’s words. “Our captain and leader has not left us, today, tomorrow, this year, next… Our endeavors will reflect our love and admiration for him.”

His No. 15 was immediately retired by the Yankees. His locker in the Yankee clubhouse remains vacant to this day.

A working class hero is something to be.
A working class hero is something to be.
If you want to be a hero well just follow me,
If you want to be a hero well just follow me.

Top of the 2nd
Trevor Hoffman’s teammates carried him off the field as he became the first pitcher to save 500 games. Hoffman struck out Russell Martin for the final out in the San Diego Padres’ 5-2 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers. David Wells and Heath Bell lifted the bullpen ace onto their shoulders and inside the clubhouse, the Padres toasted their popular closer with champagne.

It was his 18th save in 20 chances this season.

Hoffman set the career record with his 479th save on Sept. 28 against Pittsburgh, breaking Lee Smith’s old mark of 478.

Top of the 3rd
Chris Young led off the 7th inning with a home run to center field off of Matt Morris and that’s all the Diamondbacks needed for a 1-0 victory over the San Francisco Giants.
Brandon Webb (6-3) matched his season high with four walks but still won his third straight start, striking out seven and allowed six hits in seven innings. Arizona won for the 11th time in 12 games overall.

Barry B*nds was out of the starting lineup with shin splints, achy knees, and withdrawal symptoms, walked as a pinch hitter for Omar Vizquel in the 9th. “I won’t go on the DL,” B*nds said. “Don’t count on seeing me on the DL — ever. I won’t let myself. I will work hard. I will play through it.”

Always the team player.

Top of the 4th
Albert Pujols’ two-run homer snapped a 7th inning tie, and the Cardinals beat the Cincinnati Reds, 6-4. The Cardinals (26-30) have won six of seven and pulled five games behind first-place Milwaukee in the NL Central. Pujols is batting .444 (16-for-36) in his last nine home games, and has average up to .292.

Check out this neat feature tracking Albert’s homers-

Top of the 5th
As you know, a team that loses a quality free agent to another team is compensated with draft picks, but this year it’s a little different. Free agents good enough to earn draft-pick compensation are divided by Type A and Type B, as ranked by our friends at the
Elias Sports Bureau. Type A free agents are players ranked in the top 20 percent at a particular position. Type B free agents are those who rank from 21-40 percent.

That part is simple, but remember if there is a choice, baseball will never make it simple. Lynn Henning of the Detroit News did us all a service by way of this example. A team that loses a Type A free agent, like San Francisco losing pitcher Jason Schmidt, will receive a first-round draft pick, as well as a “supplemental round” selection. The catch there is a team signing a Type A free agent will keep its first-round pick and forfeit a second-round selection if the signing team is bad enough to be selecting in the top half of the first round.

Also, MLB does not allow draft picks to be traded because if you traded your first-round selection at last June’s draft, and next winter sign a Type A free agent, the team losing the Type A player would have no first-round compensation.

This is why San Francisco, Toronto, Texas and San Diego, combined, will have 22 of the draft’s first 64 picks…I guess.

And for the first time, you will get to see the first round in all its glory. It will be televised today at noon, on ESPN2.

“It’s going to bring more attention to the draft,” commissioner Bud Selig said. “The draft is how people build their teams. I’m told there is more interest in the draft than one might think.”

Traditionally, the first round is completed in less than an hour. This year, there will be a maximum of five minutes for each of the 30 first-round selections. Only five rounds are expected to be held Thursday, down from close to 20 on the opening day in the past, with the remaining 45 rounds Friday.

Top of the 6th
Eminence Sports Travel is offering Father’s Day packages to see the San Francisco Giants make their first appearance at Boston’s Fenway Park since 1912, when they play the Red Sox, June 15-17. The $1,995 tax-inclusive package includes two luxury suite tickets to the Saturday afternoon game, with food and beverages included, plus Saturday night accommodations for two at Four Seasons Boston (room includes a view of the city’s Public Garden). The $3,495 package includes the two luxury suite tickets, two nights of luxury accommodations at Four Seasons Boston, breakfast for two on Saturday and Sunday, and limousine service to and from Fenway on game day. Call 617-782-1163.

Top of the 7th
Kansas City Royals at Cleveland Indians, 12:05 pm
(L) Odalis Perez (3-5) vs. (R) Fausto Carmona (6-1)
Tampa Bay Devil Rays at Toronto Blue Jays, 12:37 pm
(R) Edwin Jackson (0-7) vs. (R) AJ Burnett (5-5)
Boston Red Sox at Oakland Athletics, 3:35 pm
(R) Curt Schilling (5-2) vs. (R) Joe Blanton (5-3)
New York Yankees at Chicago White Sox, 8:11 pm
(R) Mike Mussina (2-3) vs. (R) Jose Contreras (4-5)
Detroit Tigers at Texas Rangers, 8:35 pm
(L) Mike Maroth (3-2) vs. (R) Kameron Loe (1-5)
Pittsburgh Pirates at Washington Nationals, 1:05 pm
(R) Ian Snell (5-4) vs. (L) Matt Chico (3-4)
Houston Astros at Colorado Rockies, 3:05 pm
(R) Roy Oswalt (6-4) vs. (R) Josh Fogg (1-5)
Philadelphia Phillies at New York Mets, 7:10 pm
(L) Cole Hamels (8-2) vs. (R) John Maine (6-3)
Chicago Cubs at Atlanta Braves, 7:35 pm
(L) Rich Hill (4-4) vs. (L) Chuck James (5-4)
Cincinnati Reds at St. Louis Cardinals, 8:10 pm
(R) Kyle Lohse (2-7) vs. (R) Adam Wainwright (4-4)
San Francisco Giants at Arizona Diamondbacks, 9:40 pm
(L) Noah Lowry (5-5) vs. (R) Livan Hernandez (5-3)
Los Angeles Dodgers at San Diego Padres, 10:05 pm
(L) Hong-Chih Kuo (0-1) vs. (R) Jake Peavy (7-1)
As of June 6, 2007, at 04:47 PM ET

Top of the 8th
Even after Scott Rolen’s successful steal of third yesterday, the Cardinals have a major league-low 15 steals and have been thrown out 12 times.
Top of the 9th
The Twins Luis Castillo’s major league-record errorless streak for second baseman ended at 143 consecutive games. He missed a throw from Jason Bartlett, the Minnesota shortstop, in the 1st inning of the Twins 8-5 victory over the Angels. Kevin Slowey allowed 10 hits in five innings, to earn his first major league victory.

Castillo hadn’t committed an error since May 29, 2006, when he misplayed a line drive by Chone Figgins also at Angel Stadium. Castillo handled the next 647 chances flawlessly until Vladimir Guerrero grounded to Bartlett at shortstop and his sidearm throw to Castillo for the attempted force on Figgins tipped off Castillo’s glove.

Bottom of the 9th
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Information provided in Billy-Ball has been gathered from A.P. reports,,, and numerous other e-sources. Opinions expressed in Billy-Ball are obviously solely the opinions of the author of Billy-Ball and do not reflect those of source material no matter how off the wall they may be.