File this under the Case for Cooperstown Series if you’d like. This post was born out of last night’s Toyota Text Poll in which YES asked fans if Thurman Munson should be a Hall of Famer. Predictably, 93% of the respondents said that the former Yankee catcher and captain should be in the Hall of Fame. My gut reaction was a rather cold “no.”
Maybe this is because I was born in 1987 and know nothing of Thurman aside from memories and stories from parents, family friends, and of course the media. For what it’s worth, he sounded like a great guy: competitive, compassionate, and everything you’d want in a baseball player and a friend. But any time I’ve objectively looked at his numbers, I thought “No, this guy shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame.” It’s tragic that his career was cut short by his early demise, but we obviously can’t reward a player for what he hasn’t done on the field.
Last night, though, I took a bit of a deeper look. Let’s take a walk down Hall of Fame Case Lane and see if my mind can be changed.
The first spot I hopped to was the top 500 historical WAR database. On there, Munson ranks 241st with 43.3 WAR. This ranks above almost 20 current Hall of Famers, including Phil Rizzuto, Jim Rice, and fellow catcher Ernie Lombardi. Averaging out his WAR, he put up about 3.9 WAR per season, which is definitely solid.
Thurman also put up a 116 OPS+, again, solid and that looks even better when we consider that Munson was a catcher. He also put up a 118 wRC+ and a .339 wOBA. The .339 wOBA isn’t sparkling, but combined with his solid defense it made for a very valuable player.
At the end of all this, I’m still not ready to say that Munson should be in the Hall of Fame. Had he continued on his “current” pace, I’d say yes. However, he didn’t. It’s outrageously sad that he didn’t get to continue on that pace, but the fact remains that he didn’t. Had he suffered an injury rather than died, I don’t even know if we’d be having this Hall of Fame discussion. Regardless of that, the main point is that Munson did not get to complete what could’ve been a Cooperstown career. What’s just as sad is that my generation hardly knew him. Rest in peace, Thurman; you’ll never been forgotten.
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