Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Thurman Munson

Claim to fame: Next to Johnny Bench and Carlton Fisk, Munson may have been the best catcher of the 1970s. He made seven All Star appearances in the decade along with winning three Gold Gloves and the 1976 American League Most Valuable Player award. He also helped revitalize the once-proud Yankees, joining a sputtering New York club in 1969 and later contributing to back-to-back World Series titles in 1977 and 1978. Munson’s career was cut short August 1, 1979 when he died in a plane crash at 32.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Munson posthumously exhausted his 15 years of eligibility with the Baseball Writers Association of America in 1995 and can be enshrined by the Veterans Committee.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? That’s a tough question. Had Munson played a full career, he’d likely have a plaque in Cooperstown by now. He’s part of a small group of players whose Hall of Fame chances were hurt by their untimely deaths. Others in this class include Ray Chapman and Urban Shocker. Of the group, Munson may come closest to enshrinement on playing merit. He hit .292 lifetime with 1,558 hits and was a cornerstone of the Yankee rebirth. I’d probably vote for him if I could.

There are a few men in the Hall of Fame whose careers ended prematurely, be it for injury, illness or death. These men include:

  • Roy Campanella
  • Roberto Clemente
  • Dizzy Dean
  • Ed Delahanty
  • Lou Gehrig
  • Addie Joss
  • Sandy Koufax
  • Kirby Puckett
  • Rube Waddell
  • Ross Youngs

Munson’s numbers fall short of the only catcher on that list, Campanella, who dominated more in fewer seasons, though I liken Munson favorably to Joss or Youngs. Joss won 160 games with a 1.89 lifetime ERA before dying of meningitis at 31 in 1911, while Youngs hit .322 in ten seasons before dying of Bright’s disease in 1927 at 30. Munson played more seasons than either player and rates comparably well or better on some of the Hall of Fame metrics. That being said, it took until the 1970s for the Veterans Committee to tab Joss or Youngs. In addition, Youngs had a teammate on the committee, Frankie Frisch, who helped get several friends enshrined. I don’t know if Munson has any such booster on the current committee.

It’s worth noting that historically, the Veterans Committee has generally rewarded players who got significant Hall of Fame vote totals from the BBWAA, and Munson was mostly an afterthought after peaking with 15.5 percent of the vote in his first year on the ballot, 1981. Even then, when Munson likely received extra votes from writers who didn’t know it was okay to vote otherwise, the Yankee catcher still finished 16th. Gil Hodges, Roger Maris and three other men who have yet to be enshrined as of this writing received more votes in 1981 than Munson. I wouldn’t be surprised if the committee considers Hodges or even Maris before Munson.

Even with a full career, Munson would face slim odds of making Cooperstown. Catchers have about as easy a time earning plaques as relief pitchers, stolen base specialists or any defensive whiz not named Brooks Robinson or Ozzie Smith. Two other fine catchers from Munson’s era awaiting enshrinement are Bill Freehan and Ted Simmons. Both had more All Star appearances than Munson by the time they were 32. In addition, Freehan had five Gold Gloves before his 28th birthday while Simmons amassed 2,472 career hits and a .285 lifetime batting average.

Interestingly, both Freehan and Simmons were one-and-done Hall of Fame candidates, meaning they got less than 5 percent of the vote their only year on the ballot which automatically disqualified them from future votes. Freehan spent his career with Detroit while Simmons did his best work with St. Louis and Milwaukee. Had Freehan or Simmons played in a comparably-sized media market to Munson or died in similarly tragic circumstances, I think their Hall of Fame bids would have received better support.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? is a Tuesday feature here.

57 thoughts on “Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Thurman Munson”

  1. Munson does belong in the Hall. He is one of just three catchers to hit 300 and drive in 100 runs three years in a row. The others are Piazza and Dickey. Munson was a ROY, an MVP, a three time gold glover and a seven time all star. He was the captain of two World Series teams and three AL championship teams. Two pitchers won Cy Young awards with Munson as their trusted backstop, Sparky Lyle and Ron Guidry. Munson hit 292 in a pitcher’s era and played his entire career in tough ballparks for a right-handed hitter (Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium in 74-75). He hit 300 with runners on base and in the post season. Had he played out his career he would have topped 2000 hits and likely come close to or exceeded 1000 runs and rbis. Chances are he would have also played in another World Series. It wasn’t right for the regular voters to take this into consideration but its ok for the Veterans Committee. On a wins over replacement player basis, Munson is about tied with Campanella in the ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia for his career.

    1. Hi Charlie, thanks for commenting. That’s a good point about the Veterans Committee having different things it can take into count than the BBWAA. I didn’t think of that but it makes total sense.

  2. By the time he died, Thurman was pretty well beaten up, battered and bruised, with bad knees and an arm that was pretty well shot, he would have been forced to move to the less demanding DH or perhaps 1B, probably within a year or so. As the result of the injuries, his power had severely declined and the force of his great will and competitive spirit was about all that was keeping him running. I doubt that whatever counting numbers he might have added to the collection could have contributed any more to way we remember him with all his dogged determination and over achieving, and may well have detracted from how we perceive him today.

  3. Here is where stats can be a good example of polluting one’s perspective on excellence in baseball. It is never more apparent than with catchers, who for all intents an purposes control the success of a game more than any other player. They call the pitches. They have to know the batters better than the pitcher does, they have to have the most critical awareness of everything going on in the field and all while they sit in the most painful crouching position and have to take the brunt and abuse of balls in the dirt, foul tips, 200+ lb men driving home to knock your brains out. The stats for leading a team under those conditions do not exist, altho Munson did accumulate some excellent stats in the field and at bat in his 11 years. Munson;s value to the Yanks cannot be established on paper as it could with perhaps a Reggie Jackson. I bet if you asked a teammate of that time who they felt was the most important person on the team, they most likely would have said Munson over anyone. The same would hold true for Freehan, Simmons, Tim McCarver and Joe Torre. Finally, catchers need to be judged differently in that the sheer abuses they take totally undermine their ability to hit, run and have a long career. Can you imagine what Johnny Bench would have done offensively if he played firstbase? Joe Torre is a good example of that, having one of the most amazing seasons anyone ever had at that time after being freed of the shackles of catching.

    Munson played in the shadow of two of the greatest catchers ever in Bench and Fisk. I think their great offensive success skewed the facts in that Munson’s hitting stats are quite excellent for a catcher of any era.

  4. I’m a Thurman fan, and while he’s not one of the top 10 catchers of all time, he’s probably in the top 15 or 16. If he ever makes the Hall, I’ll be thrilled; if he doesn’t, I can live with it; I do take issue with the opening statement “Next to Johnny Bench and Carlton Fisk, Munson may have been the best catcher of the 1970s”. For just the 70s, Munson was better than Fisk, hands down. Being a righthand hitter at Shea/Yankee Stadium, Munson’s homer totals were kept from getting very big, but he still reached 100 RBIs 3 years in a row; if he could have switched ballparks with Fisk, his stats would be considerarably better than they are; Fisk has the better career, but Thurman was the American League’s premier catcher of the 1970s.

  5. He does belong in the Hall of Fame, Pure & Simple, LONG OVER DUE!! Get with it guys, he deserves it, he EARNED IT!!

  6. Players should be judged for the Hall of Fame based on the years that they played and against those they played with and against. When taken into context that way Munson is a Hall of Famer. Top 3 catchers in Munson’s era, Bench, Munson and Fisk. Long term stats are just compiled over the years, look at each season and rate the player that way, and against the players that they played against.

  7. Here it is. I call it WAR 10. A full decade of uninterrupted WAR. That is what Munson’s career was and for a catcher that is plenty. I call it the ” The Thurman Munson Test” . Requirements are 10 consecutive years of WAR for catchers with a score of 45.6 total WAR and at least 1200 games caught. In the games history only Gary Carter 60.8 , Johnny Bench 59.9 , Mike Piazza 53.9 , Ivan Rodriguez 50.7 , Mickey Cochrane 47.0 , Yogi Berra 47.0 and THURMAN MUNSON 45.6 have achieved it. Munson belongs in the Hall of Fame. His great all around play is the reason why. And let’s not forget his amazing postseason career.

  8. Let’s look at catchers of the last 50 years and raise the bar to 1000+ games caught for JAWS. In order they would be Bench – Carter – Rodriguez – Fisk – Piazza – Simmons – Munson.
    Now for WAR 7 – Carter – Bench – Piazza – Rodriguez – Fisk – Munson – Simmons.

    Now for My WAR 10 Creation ” The Munson Test” – Carter – Bench – Piazza – Rodriguez – Munson – Simmons – Fisk.
    These are the best catchers of the last 50 years and they all belong in the Hall of Fame.

  9. And Simmons and Fisk did not qualify for WAR 10 – so over the last 50 years we only have Carter – Bench – Piazza and Rodriguez to match or better what Munson did from 1970 -1979.

    Carter 1977 -1986
    Bench 1968 – 1977
    Piazza 1993 – 2002
    Rodriguez 1995 – 2004

  10. Hey guys what’s up, Thurman Munson was my father and I just wanted to say I appreciate all the support for my dad for the hall of fame. It might never happen but I’m very proud that it’s even possible to make the case he can get In….he was a good family man a good player and will always be a hall of famer in my book……thanks

  11. Hi Michael, you are most welcome. Your Dad was the greatest and his records speak for themselves. I will never give up the fight to get him in the Hall of Fame where he belongs. I know you meet a lot of people and may not remember me but my beautiful wife Suzette and I sat with your family at the 33rd Annual Thurman Munson Awards Dinner. It was my 50th birthday gift from my wife and your family treated us wonderfully and it was one of the best nights of my life. I hope to see you again sometime and maybe we can get back to the dinner one of these years. We are grandparents now and life is very good. I hope your family is well.

  12. I miss his grit, He was a man’s man as a teammate, and a good family man! We should have more self-less Munson-like players today, and less of Manny-be-Manny types.

  13. In the history of baseball there are 3871 players who have had at least 1 at bat, only 159 of those men had at least as many postseason at bats as Thurman Munson (129 At Bats). Out of those 159 men who had at least as many postseason at bats as Thurman Munson, not even one of them had a higher postseason batting average than Thurman. His 0.357 postseason average in 129 at bats is astounding and the one accomplishment which makes him an eventual Hall of Famer. Additionally he was the first catcher in the history of the game with 4 straight seasons of at least 180 hits. Amongst catchers in the Hall of Fame only Yogi Berra had even one season of at least 180 hits (190 in 1950) before Mike Piazza did it three times in the 90s. Thurman Munson defines historical greatness at the catchers position.

  14. Hit safely in 27 of the 30 postseason games he played in… Try to find another player in the history of baseball who played in that many postseason games who hit safely in 90% of them… Hint: Thurman is the only one…

  15. When combining both the regular season and postseason, between 1975 and 1978 Thurman Munson played in more games (642) than any other catcher in the history of baseball in any 4 year period. He simultaneously set the record for most hits by a catcher in a 4 year period of time (788) when combining both his regular season and postseason hits. He gave everything he had to make his team great!

  16. Consider this… Of all the catchers in the Hall of Fame only one – Roger Bresnahan – has a postseason average above 0.300… It makes Thurman’s 0.357 seem other-worldly… In fact not even one other Hall of Fame catcher is within 60 points of Thurman’s postseason average…

  17. NONE of the Catchers in the Hall of Fame surpass Thurman’s performance in two key postseason benchmarks:

    1) 1.533 Hits Per Postseason Game (46 hits in 30 games)
    2) 0.733 RBIs per Postseason Game (22 RBIs in 30 games)

    Please try to offer a case that any Hall of Fame catcher has a better postseason batting record than Thurman…

  18. Johnny Bench vs. Thurman Munson Postseason Batting Records

    1) Johnny Bench 0.266 AVG vs. Thurman Munson 0.357 AVG
    2) Johnny 45 hits in 45 games / Thurman 46 hits in 30 games
    3) Johnny 20 RBIs in 45 games / Thurman 22 RBIs in 30 games
    4) Johnny hit safely in 31 of 45 postseason games (69%)
    5) Thurman hit safely in 27 of 30 postseason games (90%)
    6) Johnny 2 World Championships / Thurman 2 World Championships

    In short, Thurman had more postseason hits than Johnny, more postseason RBIs than Johnny, a postseason batting average 91 points higher than Johnny, and the same number of World Championships.

    Who is the best catcher in the history of Ohio Baseball?

    This is not in any way to diminish Johnny Bench… It is merely intended to shed new light on the astonishing record of Thurman Munson compared to his most impressive contemporary.

  19. Hi Christopher,

    Thurman Munson’s an underrated catcher. But I don’t think he can be called a better catcher than Johnny Bench on the basis of postseason stats. Those stats present too small of a sample size to serve as the definitive marker of a player’s worth.

    By Wins Above Average through age-32, OPS+ or wRC+ to name three quick, better statistical measures, Bench clearly rates above Munson. A case can be made that Bench is the best catcher in baseball history (while some would say Yogi Berra or Mike Piazza and I personally favor Josh Gibson.)

    It’s not to take anything away from Munson, who doesn’t get his due because of his early death. But let’s not get carried away.

    Graham

  20. Hi Graham,

    What intrigues me most, in fact, about Munson’s career are his 4 consecutive seasons of at least 180 hits between 1975 and 1978. I can find only one other catcher who has ever done that… Ivan Rodriguez between 1996 and 1999. Piazza did it 3 times in a row between 1996 and 1998… But before Piazza only one other HOF catcher had ever had even ONE season of at least 180 hits (Berra in 1950). To me this was a significant accomplishment which had never been done before at the position and was a great testament to the fact that Munson played every day and still hit with a very strong average. My feeling is that Munson demonstrated something truly unique during those 4 years… In fact he set records for combined regular season and postseason games played and hits for a catcher in any 4 year period… 642 total games and 788 total hits. I can’t find any other catcher who had any 4 year period with those combined totals for regular and postseason.

    Additionally, during those same 4 years he had 129 postseason ABs. There are 160 players in the history of baseball who have at least that many postseason ABs and not even ONE of them has a higher postseason average than Munson. To me that is another significant statistical anomaly… one which compares him favorably not just with other catchers but with postseason batters of any position. It was hard arriving at that data point, but Sean Lahman’s postseason database gave me the raw data and I was able to do the analysis.

    It is a bit interesting to me that only one HOF catcher has postseason average above 0.300… I think I did a mathematical average of all HOF catchers and it came to about 0.258 for the position. So in that respect, Munson’s 0.357 stands tall. And it’s not as if Munson’s sample size is small… only Berra, among HOF catchers, has more postseason hits than Munson.

    I guess what is interesting to me is that I haven’t previously heard the above data points referenced. I have heard a lot about the fact that he is still the only Yankee to ever win both the ROY and MVP awards. I have often heard of the significance of Munson becoming the first Yankee Captain since Gehrig. I have often read of the significance of his 3 consecutive seasons of a 0.300 average and 100 RBIs. But what I haven’t previously read about are his 4 consecutive 180+ hit seasons in relation to other catchers nor have I read about the 0.357 postseason average in relation to other players of at least the same number of postseason ABs. And finally, I’ve never read about the significance of hitting safely in 27 of 30 postseason games. All of these things are statistical outliers which were accomplished by one man.

    It seems to me that Munson did a few things which are of historical significance for the position. My favorite HOF Catcher comparison for Munson is Roy Campanella because of the similar duration of their careers and the fact that greatness, in both cases, was cut short by tragedy.

    You are right in that I am probably making a mistake in trying to compare Munson specifically to Bench. I do happen to think that the postseason comparison is interesting in light of Sparky Anderson’s comments comparing the two men after the 1976 World Series. In general, I believe that the Catcher position is somewhat under-represented in Cooperstown. For only 17 catchers to be in the HOF in an audience of 300+ seems to not acknowledge the importance or difficulty of the position on the field. I would like to see the Veterans Committee look to consider this in the years to come.

    Christopher Hahn

    1. Hi Christopher,

      I’d agree with you that catcher is an under-represented position in the Hall of Fame. I would have no problem with the enshrinement of Munson and Ted Simmons. Arguments could perhaps also be made for Bill Freehan, Elston Howard, Wally Schang, and Charlie Bennett, among others.

      Graham

  21. Graham,

    You are right especially about Ted Simmons as well. His career figures are remarkably similar to those of Carlton Fisk and yet, he only made it onto one HOF ballot. He even has more hits, a better average, and a higher OBP than Fisk. Even their CS% and FLD% are nearly identical. The fact that Fisk made it in on only his second ballot is hard to reconcile with what strike me as very similar contributions to the game by both men. I guess it comes down to Fisk playing in Boston, having a good number more HRs, and that one iconic postseason moment.

    Ted Simmons is one I had come across when researching Munson because I think that Simmons’ 622 total regular season games between 1972 and 1975 are the most for any catcher in any 4 year period, and his 728 total hits over the same period is also among the best ever amongst catchers. Definitely another good one who deserves consideration by the Veterans Committee as they potentially consider additional catchers over time. Thanks.

    Christopher Hahn

  22. This is to CORRECT a post I made here on February 4 – I left out the word POSTSEASON in the beginning. I’m sorry for the mistake. Correction Below:

    In the history of baseball, there are 3871 players who have had at least 1 POSTSEASON at bat, only 159 of those men had AT LEAST as many postseason at bats as Thurman Munson (129 At Bats). Out of those 159 men who had at least as many postseason at bats as Thurman Munson, NOT EVEN ONE of them had a higher postseason batting average than Thurman.

    In fact, of the 253 men who have at least 100 Postseason At Bats ONLY TWO have a higher Postseason Average than Munson. Those Two are Lou Gehrig, who had a 0.361 AVG in 119 Postseason ABs and Paul Molitor, who had a 0.368 AVG in 117 Postseason ABs.

    *** Data Source: Sean Lahman Baseball Archive – Postseason Database

  23. Among the 500 players in baseball history with the most postseason At Bats (defined as 65 or more post-season ABs), there are exactly 7 players who have a higher post-season batting average than Thurman Munson at 0.357.

    None of those 7 players have more post-season ABs than Thurman, none of them have more post-season hits than Thurman, none of them were Catchers, and all of them are in the Hall of Fame. As follows:

    Thurman Munson (0.357 in 129 ABs)
    Lou Gehrig (0.361 in 119 ABs)
    Paul Molitor (0.368 in 117 ABs)
    Frank Home Run Baker (0.363 in 91 ABs)
    Lou Brock (0.391 in 87 ABs)
    Hank Aaron (0.362 in 69 ABs)
    John Montgomery Ward (0.400 in 65 ABs)
    Carl Yastrzemski (0.369 in 65 ABs)

    And none of them hit safely in 90% of their post-season games played as Thurman did!

    In short, among the 500 players with the most post-season ABs exactly 7 of them have a higher post-season average than Thurman.

    Thurman defines greatness for his position amongst Catchers. If a statistically significant post-season WAR is ever developed, Thurman will be at the very pinnacle of performance relative to all players, but especially to Catchers. The average among HOF Catchers is a 0.259 post-season average and only one HOF Catcher has a post-season average above 0.300 (Roger Bresnahan)

    *** Data Source: Sean Lahman Postseason Database ***

  24. I believe that Thurman Munson would have been in the front row proudly cheering for his fellow Akron-born champion Lebron James last night. Thurman was known for being proud of his NE Ohio heritage and I think he would have taken the occasion as one of great regional and personal pride. Lebron wins his first Cleveland championship at 31… Thurman won his last NY championship at 31.

    Worth noting that on Mike and Mike ESPN Radio this morning at 8:17am EST Mike Greenberg asked Charles Barkley how Lebron compares to Michael Jordan and Charles responded by invoking Sparky Anderson’s comments when he was asked to compare “another player”to Johnny Bench (“don’t embarrass nobody by comparing them to Johnny Bench.”). While Charles couldn’t recall that it was Thurman that Sparky was referencing, I thought the analogy was a interesting one, coincidentally referencing another great player who came from the same home town of Akron. Worth noting is that history subsequent to Sparky’s comment proved that indeed Thurman CAN be favorably compared to Johnny in their postseason records. The data proves in fact that Thurman indeed was AT HIS BEST when his team NEEDED HIM THE MOST. I think the same can absolutely now be said of Lebron James.

    Two great Akron-born Ohio natives joined by true greatness and true grit at the age of 31! Ohio can be proud.

  25. Though I grew up & still root for the Red Sox,while they played against each other I always felt that Thurman Munson was better than Carlton Fisk.
    Fisk beats Munson on stats mainly because of longevity.
    Though the HOF rules state that you just have to compete during 10 seasons, the writers still hold that against some players,but reward longevity.In my opinion Thurman Munson & Tony Oliva are punished for shortened careers,instead of rewarded for what they did while playing.

  26. 37 years ago tonight Thurman Munson recorded his last hit and last RBI in baseball. In Chicago against the White Sox at Comiskey Park in the top of the 5th inning he singled to drive in Willie Randolph in a Yankee win.

  27. Christopher I could not agree more. Thurman’s accomplishments in post season play are never discussed by the people that “matter “. What he did in those 30 games is icing on the cake for an incredible career. Was he the best ever? No he was not. Should he be in the Hall of Fame? Yes he most certainly should. Another fact that I love about Munson is that he threw out 44% of all runners trying to steal on him in his career. He narrowly beats Bench in this category. Something else that is never mentioned by those that “matter “. Again I am not saying he was equal to Bench. I am merely pointing out the extraordinary career of Thurman Munson.

  28. Christopher you made a great case for Munson in regards to his lifetime batting average in post season play. I think you should do the same with OPS. I would bet that he stands very tall against the competition here as well. I would love to see the results.

  29. Post season at bats and OPS

    Munson 129. .874
    Bench. 169. .862
    Berra. 259. .811
    Carter. 118. .786
    Fisk. 54. .762
    Piazza. 120. .759
    Posada. 416. .745
    Cochrane 110. .719
    Dickey. 145. .709
    Campanella 114. 696
    Hartnett. 54. 680
    Simmons. 59. .635

    Just more clear evidence of Thurman Munson’s Hall of Fame worthy career.

  30. Thanks very much Tom,

    You make a great point on the CS% vs. Bench and your contribution to the case on the Postseason OPS metric is phenomenal. This simply proves in another significant data-based way that Thurman Munson truly elevated his game when his team needed him the most… so much so, in fact, that his postseason avg and postseason OPS is higher than every single catcher in the HOF.

    I do happen to think that his 4 consecutive seasons of at least 180 regular season hits is an amazing and unique and generally under-appreciated contribution to the game.

    While the case may not be there that he is the best catcher of all time… he is almost definitively the best catcher ever in post-season avg and postseason OPS and hits per postseason game and RBI per postseason game. The fact that he did this as the CAPTAIN of the team with all of that additional pressure is amazing. I do think that there is an organic love for Thurman among true fans of the game and that this, in time, may perhaps convince the baseball “elite” wake up and begin to support the case. You simply cannot have a player of Thurman’s stature who clearly made unique and un-duplicated contributions to the game and not recognize him as among the best ever at the position.

    Consider the number of HOF catchers who have ever had even ONE season of 180 hits (2), then consider the number of HOF catchers whose postseason avg is higher than their regular season average (3), add in the fact that Thurman is still the only Yankee ever to win both the MVP and ROY awards, add in the 27 of 30 postseason games in which he hit safely which NO OTHER PLAYER OF ANY POSITION HAS EVER DONE, and the case is there that this man is among the best true leaders ever to play the game. Then, consider the fact that it was two days short of a complete decade between the day that he took his first at bat in the majors and the day that the entire team flew to Canton to attend his funeral and we are left to wonder… what more could this man conceivably have done to contribute to his team and contribute to the game in his “not quite a decade” in the game?

    The moment that Diane and his 3 children are on the podium in Cooperstown at the day of his induction will be one of the truly great moments in the history of the game of baseball. The history of the game demands this… The HOF without Thurman is missing something critical at the position of catcher and is missing one of the truly great examples of playing every day with excellence and grit and rising to the occasion when his team needed him the most.

    Consider this as a testament to the organic love that fans have for this man… I happen to be at the Patriots game tonight wearing a Munson 15 NYY t-shirt and I’ve gotten nothing but respectful and complimentary sentiments related to the memory of the man… And this is a Boston crowd… Thurman brings folks together 37 years later… Deep true genuine respect among regular folks… Thurman is known as being something of a legend, almost “mythical” at this point… but the hard-core data based case is there and eventually in time the data wins… regardless of the politics.

    Thanks for your comments and interest Tom!

  31. Excellent Christopher! The Fenway faithful most definitely are aware of how great Thurman was. I hear it often in their support for him. His story is quite frankly one of the best of all time. I think that time has only helped to make his case. Now it’s time that he got his due with a place well deserved in the HOF!!!!!

  32. Tom,

    I have to say again that your Aug 6 post on Postseason OPS amongst HOF Catchers and a few other historically important catchers is a great one! As a novice researcher I have to say that this hadn’t even occurred to me and it is such a great metric. Another one I would add to your list, who will become very relevant soon, is Ivan Rodriguez… who is another perfect illustration of the point of Catchers in the postseason… 153 postseason AB with a 0.706 postseason OPS and a 0.255 postseason AVG… Another great catcher who played a lot of seasons, hit for great power and average in the regular season, but fell dramatically short of Munson’s performance in the postseason.

    I have to say that all of the recent euphoria surrounding Piazza was a little annoying considering the fact that as a Catcher (and even an informal “leader” of the teams he played on) it should reasonably be expected that he could elevate his performance in the postseason… but his lifetime postseason avg of 0.242 is frankly pathetic… in fact a FULL 0.66 points below his lifetime regular season average of 0.308. Munson on the other hand was nearly the exact mirror image with a postseason average 0.65 points of his regular season average (0.292rs/0.357ps). This dramatic elevation of his performance at the catcher position in the MOST important moments has to be seen as a truly unique contribution to the game at his position.

    Chris

  33. Thanks Chris! I have been looking at Thurman’s career for years. Researching his numbers like crazy. I just always knew that he was one of the greatest ever. I truly believe that time has only helped to make his case stronger. I also feel that the new research being done is shedding bright light on just how great his all around standout play was. He was clearly one of the greatest ever. He was tough. So tough in fact that he excelled at the end of the season on the biggest stage when most catchers are bruised and battered by the long season that they just endured. His regular season workload for his career was massive much like the great Hall of Fame catchers Mickey Cochrane and Roy Campanella. In 1977 Thurman went 27 for his last 54 to finish at.300 as the Yankees squeezed by the Orioles for the division title! !

  34. Only 3 catchers in Baseball history have driven home 5 runs in a World Series game. ..Hall of Fame greats Bill Dickey. …Johnny Bench. ..and Thurman Munson.

  35. Chris,
    I always felt that players like Thurman who consistently put the ball in play like Thurman were not given enough credit for doing so. By doing this and not striking out a lot you are putting the pressure on the defense of your opponent. There is a new statistic that I am aware of called ROE…”reached on error “. Thurman did this 102 times during his career. When you add that number to the other times that he reached base his AVG and OBP and SLG make a significant jump. I think Brian Kinney praised Jeter and others in his new book, “Ahead of the Curve” for this. Munson did it a lot with his best season being 19 or 20 times I believe.

  36. Hi Tom,

    Some great points you make… the ROE is a new metric that seems interesting… I will look for Kinney’s book. And the 27 of 54 performance to finish the 77 season for Munson is astonishing, another great example of Munson elevating at the most important moments (and 54 ABs is more than just a moment!) to put his team over the top in 77 what a testament to his Captaincy being more than just a symbolic status for him.

    But your point on players consistently putting the ball in play and not striking out to keep pressure on the defense is a very good point on the art and importance of true hitting… Just think of the intelligence and savvy and patience that it took for a catcher to hit safely in his first 10 postseason games, to hit safely in 12 of 14 ALCS games, to then hit safely in 15 of 16 WS games and how each of those moments would have done exactly what you say… put a little more pressure on the defense to keep the base paths moving for his team! Such a gritty and amazing performance…

    And this brings me to your most critical point from your Aug 14 post… “… he excelled at the end of the season on the biggest stage when most catchers are bruised and battered by the long season that they just endured.” This is what Cooperstown is de facto missing… A Catcher who significantly elevates his performance in the postseason over a large sample size… There are a lot of great catchers in the HOF but only 3 actually have a postseason avg above their regular season avg (carter,schalk,bresnahan). Only one (bresnahan) is actually over 0.300. Not to mention your earlier point that Munson’s postseason OPS (0.874) is higher than every single HOF catcher! (And all who are on the borderline as well.)

    I think it is time for Cooperstown and the writing community in general to address exactly your point… It is REALLY difficult for catchers to sustain great regular season performance in the postseason… The simplest point to address that is the fact that their aggregate postseason avg at the position for HOF catchers is 0.259 vs. their reg season avg. of 0.289. This makes Thurman’s postseason performance something that is truly an outlier at the position in the history of the game… Reflective of the fact that he endured through the physical challenges of playing the position late into September and into October, and then he did something in aggregate which no other catcher in the HOF has ever done… He ELEVATED to such a degree that his postseason average was a full 65 points above his regular season average. To me, the importance of the catcher position to the game requires that this ability to sustain excellence deep into the postseason is recognized! If other catchers had done it to the degree that Thurman had over a large sample size of postseason ABs the discussion would be moot, but this is an accomplishment that only Thurman seems to have ever done over the course of his postseason career in aggregate.

    A more recent reference may also help to illustrate the point. Let’s take Buster Posey who won a ROY and MVP award as Thurman did and now has 3 WS rings and is generally recognized as a great modern catcher even worthy of an early HOF article in fact (Womack). He also has a GREAT regular season average 0.308! But at this point he has played in 48 postseason games and has delivered exactly the same number of postseason hits (46) that Thurman did in 30! And he actually has fewer postseason RBIs (21) in those 48 games than Thurman had (22) in 30. So in short, in 60% more postseason games one of our best modern catchers in today’s game has the same number of hits and fewer postseason RBIs than Thurman did!

    Posey’s postseason AVG of 0.244 and his OPS of 0.644 are reflective of our earlier exchanges of HOF catchers on these metrics compared to Thurman (0.357/ 0.874).

    In short, the HOF is missing true sustained excellence at the catcher position in the postseason…and my POV is that the grit and difficulty and importance of the position to the game requires that this ability to sustain performance into the postseason at the position is recognized as a unique and difficult and unusual contribution to the game. For now, at least, Cooperstown is missing this. I think that as time goes by and more modern catchers demonstrate the same gap between regular season and postseason performance this makes Thurman’s body of work appear to be more and more unusual and unique over time.

    Chris

    PS Tom Tunison: I am going to send a note to Graham Womack for your contact information because I think that some of your research especially on sabermetrics is an amazing complement to some of my own work. I have developed a bit of a research summary on my work that I would love to share with you and perhaps we could introduce some of your sabermetrics elements into my work and we may have a pretty powerful combination on the comprehensive story to articulate this great man’s unique contributions to the game.

  37. Thanks Tom,

    I will send some of my basic work along with the supporting data files tomorrow. I don’t know a lot about sabermetrics but it looks like from your work that you do and it seems like putting both ends of the spectrum together we may have a good comprehensive story. We’ll have some fun developing the case over the next few months!

    Chris

  38. Chris,
    Wheeler Gary Sanchez batted 3rd the other day he became the first Yankees Rookie Catcher to bat 3rd in the lineup since. …you got it…Thurman Munson in 1970.
    Also Sanchez was just named player of the week today. First Yankees Catcher to earn player of the week since. ..you got it….Thurman Munson in July of 1976.
    This kid looks very comfortable and confident. ..reminds me of Munson in many ways. He can be thankful that his power gap in left center is not 470 feet like it was for Munson his first 4 years!!
    Tom

  39. Hi Tom,

    Very cool facts about Gary Sanchez… Amazing that in all of Posada’s years he never managed to win the player of the week award. I do like Posada given his very respectful comments regarding Munson’s memory and the story about Posada taking a picture with a Munson quote that happened to be hanging in Fenway. I think I read about that either in Martin Appel’s 2009 Munson book or perhaps Christopher Devine’s Munson biography which is actually amazingly rich in detail.

    I sent to your e-mail address today my initial research summary from my P&G account… it should have gone through right about noon. Tomorrow I can send some of the really massive but cool data files… It’s the only way to get a real perspective about postseason productivity for every player who has ever had even one PA.

    Chris

  40. For 8 straight seasons from 1970 his Rookie season to 1978 his second consecutive World Series Championship Thurman Munson never had less than 450 at bats. He never had a sub 3WAR season during this 8 year run. He was a model of consistency and excellence. He also never was worse than 5th in WAR on any of his team’s during this great run. That’s incredibly hard to accomplish for a catcher. Staying on the field through pain and injuries is what makes this so hard to do. Also playing at a consistent level good enough to be a 3+ WAR player. The players strikes of 1991 and 1994 also stopped some great players from pulling this off. It’s convenient and it’s great. …it’s Thurman Munson!

  41. This is for position players of course. For this exercise a pitcher cannot finish ahead of the player on that team. Also if a player finishes ahead of you But does not meet the 450 at bats requirement that player gets bumped also.

  42. Somewhat interesting to note that through Gary Wheeler’s first 20 games as a Major Leaguer he has delivered 31 hits in 20 games… for a 1.550 hits per game average. He is on pace to deliver hitting artistry to match what Thurman Munson did in his 30 career POSTSEASON games… 46 hits in 30 games for a 1.533 hits per game average.

    Not a really relevant statistical comparison but for those of us who are uniquely interested in measuring hitting productivity at the Catcher position, this comparison just jumped into my head.

    Sanchez is doing something amazing… Will be fun to watch going forward… What a story if he manages to keep them moving into the postseason race…

  43. The time has come. He did enough!

    In the history of baseball, Hall of Fame Catchers were on the winning side of a postseason series against a team managed by a Hall Of Fame Manager exactly 12 times! 12 times in 36 chances! And only 3 times since 1956. Munson as Captain of the Yankees did it 5 times! Bench, Carter, and Fisk were collectively 0-5 with their teams against Hall of Fame Managers in postseason series during their careers. Piazza and Rodriguez were a combined 3-8 against Hall of Fame Managers in postseason series. So all of the HOF Catchers who played either during or after Munson’s career were a combined 3-13 against HOF Managers in postseason series during their collective 97 years in baseball. And Munson as Captain of the Yankees was 5-1 in his DECADE!

    What exactly is baseball honoring here? Evidently something other than true definitive and unique greatness in the most important moments in the game!

    And in doing so he established the best ever postseason batting record for a Catcher, and set the record for postseason defensive CS. No Catcher in history comes even close to Munson’s combination of postseason per game RBIs and CS. Munson delivered OPS of .749 or better in every one of the 6 postseason series he played in. Exactly 5 other players in history have ever done this and Munson is the only Catcher.

    And from a regular season perspective only 6 catchers in history ever delivered more WAR than Munson in his 10 years beginning with his rookie season in 1970! 6 men in history, all Hall of Famers!

    The time has come. He did enough!

  44. Thurman Munson, played during the DEAD BALL ERA.He also
    played during the time when a pitcher could pitch inside,knock you down,DRILL YOU,if Mr MUNSON played in
    the era of JETER ,add 20 points to his lifetime batting average.
    A 292 hitting catcher becomes a 312 hitter.Also Rodriguez [PUDGE] was on the roids.Mr MUNSON is a hall of famer.Ask any catcher from that era .He was and will always be a hero of this 57 year old former catcher.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *