Girardi Q&A: Catcher to catcherYankees skipper remembers the life and career of Thurman Munson
Joe Auriemma: What's the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the type of player Thurman Munson was?
Joe Girardi: You think of a guy that would do anything that day to win a game. He was a great leader and knew what it took to really rally everyone around and pull people together. Thurman was always in the middle of everything in a sense. It seemed like in the middle of rallies, he always got the big hit when they needed. When I think of Thurman, I think of a gamer.
JA: You being a catcher yourself, how do you identify with Thurman the most? What did you think of his style of catching and did you take anything from watching him play?
JG: The interesting thing is that I really didn't start catching until later, so I never watched a whole lot of Thurman catching growing up. I knew who he was from All-Star games and stuff like that, but I was always an infielder. I started catching when I was 12 and tried to go back into the infield after that. I really didn't get into catching till I was a little bit older. I used to like to watch him in the All-Star games and on Saturday's I used to watch him on the game of the week. It seemed like at that time the Yankees would be on the game of the week a lot. It wasn't regional back then. It was the one team and I could just hear Howard Cosell say on the telecast Thurman Munson, The Captain and that would always stick out to me.
JA: When you came to the Yankees in 1996 and walked into the clubhouse to see Thurman Munson's locker stand alone, untouched since his death in 1979, what were your thoughts? What did that say to you about the person and player Munson was?
JG: My first thought was I realized how important he was to the organization. I thought about the winning beliefs and attitude he had as a player. I believe that's what Mr. Steinbrenner wanted every Yankee to have. I was in awe when I walked in there and saw his locker. I said to myself, wow, that's Thurman's locker. I walked by, looked at it and it really gave me chills. I was in the same locker room that a player like Thurman Munson was in, and by the time I got dressed, I was going to be in the same dirt as him. That was a real honor for me.
JA: August 2, 2009 is the 30th anniversary of the untimely death of this Yankee legend. You've had a chance over the years to speak with Diana Munson and Thurman's children. They've been at the stadium a lot and will forever be welcomed with open arms by both the organization and the fans. Being that you've played in the same dirt behind home plate as Thurman, what are some of the conversations that you've had with Diana Munson?
JG: I was always amazed at how open she has been, how cheerful she's been and done it all with a sincere smile on her face every time I've seen her. This is a woman that obviously loves her family, loved her husband and loves the Yankees. She certainly does love coming back to the stadium to reminisce and to see her old friends. Just seeing her at Old Timers' Day is really special. I've got a special picture with her and picture with her and Kay Murcer. Just from my conversations, you can tell that she's just a special lady.
One of the greatest awards that I've ever received to me was the Thurman Munson Award in New York. I love that award. It's a gold plated picture of Thurman on a plaque. The award just means so much to me, and to be able to receive it from Diana and get a chance to talk to her over the years has been a real thrill for me.
JA: It doesn't matter the age of the person, young or old, you still see the classic number 15, Thurman Munson jersey all over the stadium at every game. What does that say about the man that even 30 years after he passed away, that people still commemorate him in New York?
JG: I think it tells you what type of fans we have. Our fans never forget the players, whether it's 10, 20, 30 or many more years ago. This town never forgets a winner that was such a big part of championships. They also never forget the players that stood for something New Yorkers believe in and that's hard work, hustle and grittiness. I think by them continuing to wear his jersey, it's like the fans trying to reach out to the modern day player and telling them this is the type of player that you should be like. Thurman was a model example of what a ballplayer should be on and off the field.
JA: I don't know if you remember where you were when you heard about Thurman's plane crash and death, but do you remember how you reacted when you found out?
JG: From just trying to think back, I think I was completely shocked. I don't remember exactly where I was when I heard the sad news. I was 14 years old at the time and I was probably out playing baseball somewhere when I found out. I just am thinking back and remembering how he died, and I just said to myself, "What an awful day for not just baseball, but for sports fans across the country."
He was a hero for many people. I was catcher at that point, and I just remember thinking that a great catcher in the prime of his career has just passed away. I just found it hard to understand and hard to believe that something like that would have happened. It was a sad day for everyone that was involved in baseball, whether you were younger or older, and might have even had only a little idea of who Thurman Munson was, it truly was a sad day.
JA: The Yankees have had a lineage of championship catchers that span back to the days of Bill Dickey. From Dickey to Yogi Berra and Elston Howard, on to Thurman Munson, then of course you and finally Jorge Posada. What's it like knowing that you are mentioned in that group of Yankees catchers and what's the feeling that you know Yogi, played with and managed Jorge and that Thurman is still such a big part of this organization?
JG: That's a real honor. As far as being apart of championships, that was great. As far as being lumped in that group with the type of players they were, I don't know if I measure up to those guys. I was part of a championship like they were and that is very special. I mean these guys were and in Jorge's case are great players. You've got Hall of Famers in there and players that have put up big numbers as integral part of those winning teams. It's a real honor to be mentioned with those names.