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On This Date in Sports August 6, 1979: With Heavy Hearts in the Bronx

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

It was an emotional day for the New York Yankees, as they flew to Canton to attend the funeral of Captain Thurman Munson and had to return for a Monday Night game against the Baltimore Orioles. Bobby Murcer who delivered the eulogy the hero as the Yankees win 5-0. Down 4-0, Murcer hits a three-run homer in the seventh and hits a walk-off hit to win the game in the ninth.

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It was news that not only shook the New York Yankees but left all of baseball in a state of disbelief as Yankees Catcher Thurman Munson was killed in a plane crash, while practicing flying in his hometown of Canton, Ohio. The 32-year-old often grew homesick while playing in New York during the season and began to take up flying so he could go to his hometown on off days. On August 2nd on a travel day, Munson was in Canton, learning takeoffs and landing at the local airport when he clipped a tree and crashed during a landing. Pinned in the fuselage with a broken neck, Munson told his passengers to leave him as the plane a was engulfed in flames.

A day after the death of Thurman Munson, the Yankees began a four-game series in the Bronx against the first-place Baltimore Orioles. The 1979 season had been a trying one for the two-time defending champions. Injuries again played a big role, as they had a record of 58-48 and were 14 games behind the Orioles in fourth place. In a reversal of 1978, Bob Lemon was fired and replaced by Billy Martin, in his second term as Yankees field boss. The Yankees held an emotional pregame ceremony for Munson, as home plate was left vacant, fans cried and cheered for the memory of Munson, who was named Yankees captain in 1976. He was the first captain since Lou Gehrig.

The Yankees would lose the first game following the death of Munson, 1-0. The Orioles also won the second game 4-3, with the Yankees bouncing back to win Sunday 3-2 with Tommy John on the mound. With the Thurman Munson funeral taking place on Monday in Ohio, the Yankees had wanted the Monday Night game postponed. However, since the game was scheduled to air nationally on ABC, their request was denied. This left the Yankees with no choice but to fly to Canton and fly home after the funeral and hope to get to the stadium in time for the primetime game.

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At the service, Bobby Murcer delivered a heartfelt eulogy. Murcer had been one of Munson’s closest friends on the team. Bobby Murcer born May 20, 1946, in Oklahoma City was expected to be the heir apparent to Mickey Mantle as he made his debut at the age of 19 in 1965. Losing two years to military service, Bobby Murcer came back in 1969 and became the Yankees top player as they suffered through some lean years. When Munson won the Rookie of the Year in 1970 the two became fast friends as they became the foundation of the Yankees rebuild. However, Murcer was traded to the San Francisco Giants for Bobby Bonds following the 1974 season. He later moved on to the Chicago Cubs in 1977. The Yankees would bring back Bobby Murcer after a trade with the Cubs in June of 1979.

Ron Guidry got the start for the Yankees the night of Thurman Munson’s funeral while Dennis Martinez was chosen to start by Earl Weaver for the first-place Orioles who held a record of 74-35 entering the game. The Orioles scored first on a home run by Lee May in the second inning. They made it 2-0 as May doubled and scored on a Rich Dauer sac-fly in the fifth. In the sixth inning, current YES announcer Ken Singleton added to the Yankees woes with a two-run shot to make it 4-0 in favor of Baltimore.

In the seventh inning, things looked bleak for the Yankees as they were down 4-0 with two outs and nobody on base. Bucky Dent would walk to begin a rally for New York, Willie Randolph followed with a double which brought Bobby Murcer to the plate. Murcer proceeded to hit a three-run shot into the short porch to put the Yankees back in the game. After a single by Chris Chambliss, Orioles closer Tippy Martinez came on and squashed the Yankees rally.

Ron Guidry would go the distance as the Yankees trailed 4-3 entering the bottom of the ninth. Bucky Dent led off the ninth with a walk, he was followed by Willie Randolph who reached base on an error by Martinez, who threw away a bunt attempt, putting the tying and winning runs in scoring position. Next up was Bobby Murcer who hit down the opposite field, scoring Dent and Randolph to win the game 5-3.

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It was one of the more emotional wins in the history of the New York Yankees, as they finished the season in fourth place with a record of 89-71. Following the game, Bobby Murcer dedicated the game to Thurman Munson, giving the bat he used to his widow.