For nearly 30 years, the tapes resided in his dresser -- second drawer down from the right. Oh, from time to time
Back in 1977 Appel coauthored
"It was hard," Appel said. "Thurman was a great guy, but he didn't want to get into any controversy and he didn't want to delve into his background or boyhood. So while I'm happy that book came out, there were serious holes."
When Munson died in a plane crash at age 32 on Aug. 2, 1979, Appel -- along with the entire city of New York -- was distraught. Numb. Arriving for the funeral in Canton, Ohio, he was lovingly embraced by Thurman's widow,
The funeral began. The funeral ended.
The Yankees found new catchers.
Munson's teammates aged and grayed and wrinkled. The player he was closest to,
The tapes sat. And sat. And sat.
One day, a couple of years ago, Appel decided the time had come. He opened the second drawer on the right, pulled out the tapes -- 12 in all. The sound of Munson's voice -- young, vibrant, alive -- startled him. To the New York media that covered the Bronx Zoo back in the late 1970s, Munson was often an ornery, unhelpful wart of a man. He could be rude, dismissive and combative. Once, upon receiving a pair of cuff links as a present from an adoring fan, Munson turned to those around him and barked, "What the %$#@ would I want these for?"
Yet Appel had long recognized the insecurity masked by the outbursts. Back then the Yankees were a festering stew of insanity --
That is made clear in Appel's latest book,
Because he was a first-hand participant in Munson's big-league career, Appel occasionally inserts himself into the narrative -- and it works brilliantly. Though he might lack the literary chops of a
Most poignant, Appel take a step-by-step, moment-by-moment look at Munson's final minutes, when the Cessna Citation he was flying (Munson was a licensed pilot) crashed in at the Akron-Canton Regional Airport. The reader is left with the painful conclusion that the crash was Munson's fault, but also with the knowledge that a man died doing what he loved. "I read over the book four times before I was ready to let it go," Appel said. "And there were certain parts where, every time, my eyes welled up in tears. On the one hand, it seems like forever ago. On the other hand, it can feel like yesterday. His death stuck."
In this modern age of major league baseball, with performance-enhancing drugs and ubiquitous corporate logos and outfield swimming pools and bottled quotes, it is easy to forget that the Yankees once had the anti-