Sunday, August 2, 2009

Marty Appel: The Interview


Update: Today is the anniversary of Thurman Munson's death 30 years ago. In honor of Thurman, I am reposting the interview I conducted with Marty Appel, who authored the biography Munson: The Life and Death of a Yankee Captain. Enjoy.

RIP Thurman


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There are some moments where I feel very fortunate to be a blogger. Today was one of them. I had the distinct privilege of interviewing Marty Appel, the head PR man for the Yankees in the 1970s. I was lucky enough to read Mr. Appel's latest book about Thurman Munson entitled Munson: Life and Death of a Yankee Captain, which is in stores now. Trust me, the book is worth the read for any Yankee fan or baseball fan. We all know Munson as a tremendous baseball player, but this book gives us a very detailed look into Munson off the field including his tumultuous childhood.

Mr. Appel was kind enough to chat with Jorge Says No! about Thurman Munson, his life, his legacy, and the biography.

For more on Marty Appel, please visit appelpr.com. Or to purchase the book, click here.

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Jorge Says No! Interview With Marty Appel

Jorge Says No!: What was it about Thurman Munson that made the fans like him so much?

Marty Appel: His approach to the game. The way he respected the team, the respect of the Yankees, the way he respected the sport, and the way he just played his heart out every game.

In the book, it's mentioned several times that Thurman had an image to protect and different personas. Why do you think this was? And why was his relationship so strained with the media?

-It was never clear why he did. You'll see a portion in the book where Murray Chass of the New York Times speculates that teammates might have goated him into taking a more hostile point of view. It was really his biggest flaw as a personality was his difficult relationship with the press, especially after he became team captain. As we see with Jeter, one of the responsibilities of being captain is to be the team spokesman, when necessary. Thurman never got that memo.

You take an extensive look into Thurman's difficult childhood, specifically with his father. What impact did his childhood have on Thurman's life?

-For most of us, those kind of family lives just regenerate themselves and you almost never see someone break that cycle as well as Thurman did. That's why it was so laudable what he accomplished. There was a reference to his Father, who was raised in an orphanage, so that was like two generations at least of home life that was essentially loveless. For Thurman to break that and have a great family life of his own as a adult, boy, he really accomplished that.

Thurman comes off in the book as a devoted and loving family man. How much of this do you attribute to his difficult upbringing with his father?

-It's all part of the same picture. Thurman's father was gone all the time (he was a long distance truck driver) and Thurman was just going to be everything that his father wasn't. And that was his reason for getting into aviation in the first place.

Why did you decide to write this autobiography about Munson? What new information did you uncover about Thurman?

-The reason I wanted to do it is because to me, the first draft (autobiography of Munson) was incomplete. It delivered what Thurman wanted and no more. And I always knew that there was so much more to the story.

In terms of what I discovered, it was really new details about his upbringing. He would have been at the point now in his sixties where if I said to him, "the story of how you accomplished breaking this cycle and developing a wonderful family life for yourself is such an uplifting American story. There are so many people that can relate to that. I think this is an important book so that this message gets out there.

Hypothetically speaking, what do you think would have happened with Thurman and the Yankees after '79? Was Thurman headed to Cleveland? Would he ever catch again?

-It's so hard to say. The wild card turned out to be Dave Winfield. Winfield comes to the Yankees and Thurman is of the belief that he should make the most money so if they signed Winfield, the Yankees are supposed to give him (Munson) more. Would the Indians have been in the position to match that kind of salary? Probably not.

I think Thurman probably would have made the money decision and stayed in New York. But who can be sure? We barely know how many years Thurman had left in him anyway.

He could have turned into a good designated hitter and had a six or seven year run at that. But of course, we'll never know.

Do you think Thurman should be in the HOF? Why hasn't he come close?

-That's a tough question for me because I love the guy and I'm a big Yankee fan, but I'm a real purist when it comes to the hall of fame. I would be a very tough voter if I did have a vote. I gotta go along with what Bill James wrote which is that in the end, he essentially did not have the career numbers to put him in the hall of fame. What he did have was the most severe injury imaginable in his 11th season. But hey, hall of fame careers are often detoured by injuries. And, I think Bill James said this, that there's alot more guys who were injured on their way to Cooperstown than guys who actually made it. So I'm never in favor of putting in a hall of famer that requires an asterisk. Roberto Clemente did not require an asterisk.

That's how I feel, but with apologies, because I know there are Munson fans who believe that he belongs.

After reading this book, the one word that I would use to describe Munson is complex. Is there a word that comes to your head when you think of Thurman Munson?

-Well complex is a good word. He was not just a jock, there was a lot to this guy: his concentration on family, his interest in business, his interest in aviation. He was a real Renaissance man. A good player for his time because he led by example both on the field and off the field.

Do you think readers will be surprised to see just how interested in business Munson was?

-Yeah and also it helped him form a relationship with George Steinbrenner. He used to like to go up to Steinbrenner's office after batting practice and just talk business with him. He'd plop in there in uniform and sit at Steinbrenner's desk and put his feet up on the table and talk business. I think that's different than most players.

Thurman may not have done this out of warmth and friendship, but he also admired Steinbrenner's successes as a business man and wanted to learn all he could from him.

And finally, you got your start in baseball opening Mickey Mantle's fanmail? How cool was that job?

-It was cool that I got to know Mickey Mantle from it and that Mickey Mantle knew who I was, which was unimaginable when I was a kid. The process of answering the mail wasn't that interesting after a while because they all said the same thing: "Dear Mickey, Your my favorite player. Please send me an autographed baseball."

The letters were not as interesting as knowing Mickey!

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I'd like to thank Mr. Appel for being so generous with his time. He is truly a class act and I enjoyed every minute of the interview.

Stay tuned for an in depth book review of Munson: The Life and Death of a Yankee Captain in the next few days.

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