Thurman Munson (June 7, 1947 – August 2, 1979) was a Major League Baseball player from 1969 to 1979. Munson played his entire career as catcher with the New York Yankees, having been drafted by the team with the fourth pick in the first round of the 1968 amateur draft. He was named the American League Rookie of the Year in 1970 for batting .302 with 7 home runs and 57 RBIs, and the American League MVP in 1976 for batting .302 with 17 home runs and 105 RBIs. In 1971 he made only one error behind the plate and went on to win Gold Glove Awards for 1973-74-75. A seven-time all-star, Munson smashed 113 home runs, 701 RBIs and had a career batting average of .292 over his ten-year career. He was also the first captain named by the Yankees since Lou Gehrig. Munson helped lead his team to three consecutive World Series (1976–1978), where he batted a remarkable .373 overall.
On August 2, 1979, Munson died in a plane crash. He was practicing takeoffs and landings in his new Cessna Citation jet at the Akron-Canton Regional Airport. On the third touch-and-go, Munson failed to lower the flaps for landing and allowed the aircraft to sink too low before increasing engine power, causing the jet to clip a tree and fall short of the runway. The plane then impacted a tree stump and burst into flames, killing Munson, who was trapped inside, and injuring two other companions.
His sudden death stunned the nation and especially sorrowed the baseball community. Munson's wife, Diana, and their three children survived him. Four days later, on August 6, the entire Yankee team attended his funeral in Canton, Ohio. Lou Piniella and Bobby Murcer, who were Munson's best friends as well as teammates, gave moving eulogies. That night (in front of a national viewing audience on ABC's Monday Night Baseball) the Yankees beat the Baltimore Orioles 5-4 in New York with Bobby Murcer driving in all 5 runs.
Immediately following his death, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner announced that his uniform number 15 was being retired. On September 20, 1980, a plaque was dedicated in his memory and placed in Yankee Stadium's Monument Park. The plaque bears an inscription composed by Steinbrenner: "Our captain and leader has not left us, today, tomorrow, this year, next... Our endeavors will reflect our love and admiration for him." To this day, despite a packed clubhouse, an empty locker, with Munson's number 15 on it, remains as a tribute to the Yankees' lost catcher. The original locker that Munson used, and a bronzed set of his catching equipment, were donated to the Baseball Hall of Fame.