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The sports world has been rocked recently with the untimely deaths of Steve McNair and former boxing champ Arturo Gatti. McNair was killed by his girlfriend (who then committed suicide), while Gatti’s death was at first considered a homicide (and his wife was held in jail) before it was ruled a suicide.

When a sports figure dies, whatever the circumstances, it gets you thinking about other deaths that have stunned the sports community.

August 2, 1979 was one of those days.

New York Yankee great Thurman Munson died that day when the small aircraft he was piloting crashed outside of Canton, Ohio. Sunday marked the 30th anniversary of the event, and ESPN Classic aired the tribute game between the Yankees and the Baltimore Orioles.

For those of you too young to remember Munson, you missed one heck of a ball player. And even though I really can’t stand the Yankees, I can appreciate great players when I see them. And Munson was one of those.

Not only on the field, but also in the locker room. How respected was Munson? Well, he was the captain of the Yankees. Now, some of you might not think that was such a big deal, but consider this: Lou Gehrig was the last Yankee captain before the organization awarded the title to Munson. The Yankees don’t hand out their captaincy to just anybody. Several greats, including Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle, were never named captain.

Munson’s death shook not only the Yankees, but the entire league. Several major leaguers turned out for Munson’s funeral, a tribute to a player that was admired by not only the fans, but his contemporaries, also.

The Yanks never recovered from Munson’s death that year, as they faded out of contention, while the Orioles went on to take the American League pennant before losing to the Pittsburgh Pirates in seven games in the World Series.

A lot has happened in those 30 years. With each passing day, the heartache of Munson’s death has been eased a little bit. But his memory continues to burn bright, not only in the hearts of Yankee fans, but fans of baseball everywhere.

Denis House can be reached at sports@sentinel-echo.com.

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