On February 3, the Grand Hyatt Hotel was the site of the 35th annual Thurman Munson Awards, which honors success on the field of play and philanthropic work off the field. Hosted by Munson’s widow Diana, the awards dinner benefits the New York City AHRC, which has raised over $13 million since the dinner’s inception for programs to aid children and adults with disabilities.
Munson was the first player to be named as a captain since Lou Gehrig and was known as the “heart and soul” of the team over his 10-year career (1969-1979) as the Yankees’ hardnosed and no nonsense catcher. Through his leadership, Munson led the Yankees back to the World Series three years in a row from 1976 to 1978 until his tragic death in his private Cessna in August of 1979.
Remembering her beloved husband, Mrs. Munson stated, “He never really believed that he was so loved. He must be smiling ear-to-ear realizing that he is still remembered and so revered. This is such a big hug for me coming back to New York, seeing all this love and hearing all these accolades.”
This year, Yankee rookie All Star relief pitcher Dellin Betances, in addition to two other retired New York baseball players, Yankees’ Bernie Williams and Mets’ Mookie Wilson, also received the Munson award.
After laboring for six years in the minors, Betances was just one of two Yankees this past 2014 season to earn an All Star roster spot as a relief pitcher with a record of 5-0 and a 1.40 ERA along with 135 strikeouts, which broke Mariano Rivera’s 130 strikeout record.
When asked for his thoughts on earning the Munson Award, Betances stated, “When you hear the name Munson, you’re talking about one of the Yankee greats. To be able to be in this position, getting this award, I’m truly blessed and thankful for a lot of things and for the work that I’ve put in.”
Looking back at the work that he put in, Betances recalled starting out at Grand Street Campus High School in Williamsburg where he followed a number of his friends from the Lower East Side to attend a high school that had a good reputation for its baseball program.
“I learned a good work ethic there,” said Betances on his Grand Street playing days where he improved his freshman 85 MPH fastball to 90 MPH by his junior year that earned him a spot on the Alfac All American Team.
“That’s something that I took to my major league career,” stated the 26-year-old Dominican who was born in Washington Heights and grew up rooting for the Yankees.
“The Martinez brothers preached a good work ethic and pushed us to be better,” said Betances referring to Grand Street coaches, Steve, Edgar and Melvin. After harnessing his control and developing a 95 MPH fastball as well as an 82 MPH knuckle curveball, Betances stands to be one of the top American League relief pitchers out of the Yankee bullpen again this season.
When asked what Thurman would have thought to be behind the plate to catch Betances, Diana Munson’s face lit up as she stated, “He would have loved it. It would have been his kind of deal for sure.”