Thurman Munson
(Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

Let’s play pretend for a second. It’s August 2, 1979, and Yankees star catcher Thurman Munson decides not to make the fateful decision of flying that airplane. He goes on to finish his season strong, perhaps even making a playoff appearance. The 33-year-old catcher is beginning to show age but is still reliable as a player.

Up until August 2nd, Munson has seven all-star appearances as well as a Most Valuable Player award for the 1976 season. He is far and away a fan favorite and the American League’s counterpart to Johnny Bench. Statistics back it up as well. A career .292 hitter, he clocked 113 home runs in 11 seasons as well as three gold glove awards. A scary prospect for the opposition.

But let’s just move on into the eighties with Munson. This would be the pre-Mattingly era so between 1980-82. In 1980, the Yankees in real life won 103 games cruising to the postseason but swept by the Royals in three. What would have Munson done had he appeared in the series? The actual catcher, Rick Cerone had a solid year and batted .333 with a home run in the series. Munson, however, had a career playoff batting average of .357 with 22 Runs Batted In. Scary. This is not to say the Yankees would have won the series with him. He probably would’ve helped the team fare better than a sweep.

In the next season, the Yankees in real life went to World Series and faced the powerhouse Los Angeles Dodgers. This is where things get a little interesting. The 1981 player’s strike split the league into unequal halves. For the first time, division series were implemented by the commissioner. The Yankees powered their way through with no small help from Reggie Jackson, Craig Nettles, and Dave Winfield. Their pitching was no joke either with Tommy John and Ron Guidry at the forefront of the staff. The Dodgers got the better end beating them in the series four games to two. How did good ole Rick Cerone do? Whelp, he batted .190. Such as gross number when you look at it.

Now I don’t think Cerone was a bad catcher at all. He just wasn’t on the level of Thurman Munson, but who is? I can confidently say that had Munson been around for the 1981 season, the Yankees would have 28 championships. Munson would be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. It’s really difficult to say should’ve could’ve would’ve, but he was at the pinnacle of his career.

In conclusion, I don’t think Munson would’ve helped the Yankees once Don Mattingly came into the picture. Not only would Thurman been well into his mid-thirties which is when a catcher’s body starts wearing down, but the Yankees were just plain bad between ’83-’94.

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