Thurman Munson's Fierce Fisk Rivalry, Dropped Third Strikes and Assists

Harold FriendChief Writer IMay 18, 2012

NEW YORK - MAY 02:  The plaque of Thurman Munson is seen in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium prior to game between the New York Yankees and the Chicago White Sox on May 2, 2010 in the Bronx borough of New York City. The Yankees defeated the White Sox 12-3.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The rivalry between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox is intense, but the rivalry between Thurman Munson and Carlton Fisk might have been even more fierce.

Rob Neyer, in Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Legends, investigated the claim that Munson once deliberately dropped six or seven of Ron Guidry's strikeout pitches because of his competition with Fisk.

Christopher Devine, in Thurman Munson: A Baseball Biography, and Dan Okrent and Steve Wulf, in Baseball Anecdotes, each wrote about the story.

Neyer discovered what really happened from Marty Appel. It is a great story, but it apparently never happened. Still, the following is what Appel says.

Munson was aggravated that Fisk received more attention than he did. "It's that [Curt] Gowdy on NBC," Munson told Appel. "He's from Boston. He can't stop talking about Fisk on national telecasts."

Appel, who was the New York Yankees' PR director, had added some fielding statistics to the daily press notes sometime in June, 1976, which was not usually done. The Sporting News published fielding statistics once a month in those days.

Munson saw that Fisk led catchers in assists with 48. He had 46.

 "What the hell is this?" he asked Appel. "This is a [expletive] statistic. How could you print this?"

In the game that night, Munson dropped the third strike and threw to first base when a batter struck out in the first inning.  Munson pointed to Appel as if he were saying, "That was for you."

Munson dropped two more third strikes and looked toward Appel after each on. After the game, Appel spoke to the catcher, whose three assists put him ahead of Fisk.

"Did you drop those on purpose because of that press note?"

Munson ignored Appel.

Neyer's research revealed that Munson never dropped three third strikes and turned them into assists in one game. Neyer used Retrosheet as one of his primary sources.

There are two points to the story. The first is that the Munson-Fisk rivalry couldn't have been any more intense. The second is that great stories can become true stories.