Tagged: Marty Appel

Cory Lidle: Another Yankee gone way too soon

lidle_250_080209.jpgBy Jon Lane

Thurman Munson’s death resonates amongst Yankees players, alumni and fans just as strong as it did that tragic afternoon 30 years ago on August 2, 1979. I was only six when Munson perished, yet in years since, and especially researching and writing my tribute to No. 15, I felt like I too lost someone I knew. I found myself asking the same questions: Why did he have to fly that airplane? Why did a stupid tree stump — graphically explained in Marty Appel’s book — block his means of escape? Why did he have to die so young? Why?

Cory Lidle wasn’t Thurman Munson. He wasn’t a Yankee staple, nor was he a borderline Hall of Famer. But Lidle was a Yankee who had his moments during his brief tenure in the Bronx once he and Bobby Abreu arrived in a 2006 trade-deadline deal with the Phillies. And he was someone who I got to know, one player I associated with even when the tape recorder was turned off. Unlike Munson, Lidle was eager to speak with the media, yet like Munson he was an everyman, one who made the absolute best of his limited talent.

So friendly was Lidle, I’ll never forget the day of his Yankees debut. It was at Yankee Stadium and I was in the clubhouse before the game. The golden rule in covering baseball is never — EVER — utter one word to that day’s starting pitcher. These guys’ rituals varied, from David Wells blasting heavy metal over the clubhouse sound system, to Orlando Hernandez dancing to whatever was playing over his iPod, to Randy Johnson staring into his locker, Pantera playing softly on his radio, and trying to burn a hole through the wall.

The rule was simple: Don’t go within 25 feet of that game’s starter, or risk complete embarrassment and humiliation for doing something so stupid. Yet here was Lidle walking towards his locker. I was in the middle of his path and in near panic looked to get out of his way – quickly. He looked towards me, lifted his head, smiled and asked, “How you doing?”

Lidle pitched six innings to defeat the Blue Jays, 6-1, and afterwards the noted sweet tooth — then Phillies reliever Arthur Rhodes ripped Lidle in the press, explaining that he ate ice cream during games, in response to Lidle’s description of a nonchalant clubhouse — found his locker littered with ice-cream sandwiches. After the media dispersed I asked about the beginning of the next phase of a well-traveled. He proceeded to pull me aside and say, “Let me tell you about my debut at the Astrodome in May of 1997 ….” The bulk of the media reported delicious irony. Lidle remembered the details of the first three batters he faced as a New York Met.

Cory Lidle and passenger Tyler Stanger were killed on October 11, 2006 when a plane registered in his name crashed into a building on New York’s Upper East Side, mere days after Lidle – he had cleaned out his locker after the Yankees were eliminated in the ALDS and took some heat in light of comments suggesting the team was unprepared – told me and several writers off the record about a planned cross country flight to California. After taking off, the first leg was to be an aerial tour of Manhattan.

I found out while home one day and fielding a phone call from my mother-in-law. She told me to turn on the TV because a Yankee was in a plane crash. It took about a minute to put it together before I told myself, “Oh no. Not Cory. Don’t tell me it was Cory.”

lidle2_250_080209.jpgI ended up asking similar questions I would about Munson. Three days ago he told us he was taking that trip. Why did he have to fly? Why?

Lidle wasn’t Munson, but he was a Yankee, a husband and a father in the prime of his life. My old colleague and mentor Phil Pepe was haunted by the eerie similarities between the two tragedies. In a column penned one week after Lidle’s death, Pepe retold the popular story of the late-night meal during which Munson extended him an invite to take a trip in his beloved jet.

I chatted with Lidle before he left the clubhouse for what was likely the final time as Yankee. He was a pending free agent and unlikely to return, so I told him it was great to know him, wished him luck and hoped that we’d reconnect down the road. His response was something that three days later hit me – and hit me hard:

“It’s all good, man. I have my wife and my family, so everything is great. I have my whole life ahead of me.”

Once I saw the image of a burning building on the news with the confirmation that Lidle was on that airplane, I was shattered. Yankees fans honor Munson to this day, deservedly so. I honor Munson, a person I never met, in my own way, and I thank God for the brief time Lidle was in my life.

No. 15 for the Hall

By Jon Lane

“No. 15 for the Halls of Cooperstown” was one of Bobby Murcer’s words during the eulogy he delivered at Thurman Munson’s funeral on August 6, 1979. Munson’s resume was on par with the great catchers of his era, Carlton Fisk and Johnny Bench, yet Fisk and Bench are enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame and Munson is not.

Murcer, one of Munson’s closest friends on the team, found that disappointing.

“If Thurman hadn’t have been killed, he’d be in the Hall of Fame,” Murcer said in a 2007 interview. “Thurman should be in the Hall of Fame for the simple reason that he was a captain of a championship ballclub.”  

A look at Munson’s credentials during an 11-season career cut tragically short.

? AL Rookie of the Year in 1970 (.302, seven home runs and 57 RBIs).

? AL MVP in 1976 (.302-17-105), making him the only Yankee to win both the Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player awards.  

? Seven-time All-Star and winner of three straight Gold Gloves (1973-75)

? The first Yankee since Joe DiMaggio to hit .300 or more and drive in at least 100 runs three consecutive years in a row.

1975: .318 BA, 102 RBI
1976: .302 BA, 105 RBI
1977: .308 BA, 100 RBI

A Web site called VoteThurmanIn.com encourages people to write the National Baseball Hall of Fame Veterans Committee member to urge them to vote Munson into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

It’s easy to follow your heart and believe that Munson belongs in Cooperstown and if he had played a few more years – injuries and all – he may have done enough to merit serious consideration. But with a heavy heart, Marty Appel, who wrote the great book MUNSON: The Life and Death of a Yankee Captain, can’t in good faith endorse enshrinement on a short body of work and pure speculation over how Munson may have ended his career.

“My heart wants to say yes, but I’m a Hall of Fame purist too and I don’t think you can put a guy in that requires an asterisk and an explanation of what his numbers might have been,” Appel said. “[Baseball historian/ statistician] Bill James said a lot of guys get injured on way to Cooperstown and it never happens. Thurman was the most severe imaginable.”

Do you think Munson is a Hall of Famer? Why or why not?

Munson: The Life and Death of a Yankee Captain

munsonbook_275.jpgBy Jon Lane
I just finished reading a great new book by Marty Appel, the Yankees’ PR director in the mid-1970s. Munson: The Life and Death of a Yankee Captain, hits bookstores today and is available for purchase on-line. As fate had it, Appel completed an autobiography on the Yankees’ first captain since Lou Gehrig in 1979.

On August 2 it’ll be 30 years since Thurman Munson died in a plane crash, a tragedy that to this day is remembered by Yankees players, executives and fans. I was six years old and the memory of that afternoon – the televised image of that burning airplane and my mother staring at the screen in disbelief – still resonates.

When I received my copy of the book, I showed it to my parents and casually mentioned that this August will be 30 years gone by. My mom immediately let out a short breath and a stunned look of disbelief. She was never a hardcore baseball fan, but Munson was her favorite. He was the right player for those who don’t know the game, but admire when anyone puts their heart and soul into their chosen endeavor and performs both beyond their potential and physical limitations. That, folks, is part of being a role model.

There were a lot of things fans loved about Munson, many of which are highlighted in the book based on Appel’s unique and intimate experiences inside the clubhouse. Munson was never friendly with the print media, choosing to cherish his privacy and offended each time his words were taken out of context. He wasn’t a publicity hound – a sharp contrast to many who walk around with an attitude that screams, “Look at me, I’m cool” whether others like it or not. In fact, Appel recalled a few times when Munson either refused posing with sponsors or meeting VIP guests.

The best was Old Timer’s Day, 1976. Appel was determined to take a picture of a great lineage of Yankees catching: Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard and Munson. All parties were rounded up; Munson was in the players’ lounge, in his underwear, watching The Three Stooges. Appel pleaded his case before Munson begrudgingly agreed, got up in a huff and walked to his locker. When it was time to take the picture, Munson was still in front of the tube in his Fruit of the Looms.

Somehow, the photo was taken. Three years later Appel was in Munson’s home for the funeral. In an office was the picture, enlarged and framed. He neither accepted recognition nor payback, but Munson loved his teammates and his fans, and went out of his way to do anything for them. Countless and classic examples are portrayed in the book.

From a baseball perspective, this quote from Munson sums up why he was the favorite of so many:

“Look, I like hitting fourth and I like the good batting average. But, what I do every day behind the plate is a lot more important because it touches so many more people and so many aspects of the game. Thurman Munson, 8/25/75.”

Jorge Posada, who grew up a fan of George Brett and Don Mattingly, found a picture of Munson on the wall of Fenway Park’s weight room with the inscription. He took it and hung it in his locker at the old Yankee Stadium.

Job well done by Marty, a big help to YESNetwork.com last year during our coverage of Bobby Murcer’s book signing in New York. Incidentally, Sunday will be the one-year anniversary of Murcer’s passing. Something tells me the two best friends are sitting beside each other, drenched in sweat and wearing the pinstripes, watching Larry, Curly and Moe put on a live performance.