Thurman Lee Munson (June 7, 1947 - August 2, 1979) quickly made his presence known in the Yankees lineup and across Major League Baseball as he hit .302 in his rookie campaign while posting a .989 fielding percentage earning the 1970 American League Rookie of the Year award. Thurman became an instant leader on a Yankees team longing for direction and from a young age, Munson masterfully handled the pitching staffs that included Mel Stottlemyre, Catfish Hunter, Ron Guidry and Sparky Lyle, among others. He was no slouch at the plate either, batting above the .300-mark five times in his 11-year career. He played his entire career in Yankee pinstripes (1969-1979), had 110 hits in every full season he played, blasted ten or more home runs in six seasons and topped the 100-RBI mark three times. In 1976, Thurman Munson was named the American League Most Valuable Player with 186 hits, 28 doubles, 18 hoe runs, 105 RBI and a .302 batting average as well as posting a .981 fielding percentage behind the plate. He was the first team captain from 1976-1979 since Lou Gehrig, led the Yankees to the 1977 and 1978 World Series championships and earned seven MLB All-Star Game appearances. Thurman also took home the AL Gold Glove for a catcher from 1973 to 1975. Thurman Munson’s career was cut short in August of 1979, when his plane, he was piloting at the time, crashed as he was practicing maneuvers with his flight instructor onboard. Thurman Munson collected 1,558 career hits including 229 doubles and 113 home runs, scored 696 runs and drove in 701 RBI while batting a career .292 over 11 seasons. Munson’s number “15” was retired immediately upon his death and the Yankees have perpetually honored the captain with a plaque that remains in Monument Park in Yankees Stadium.
Carl Yastrzemski (August 22, 1939-) won the Triple Crown for hitting in 1967, batting .326 with 44 home runs and 121 RBI. Carl played his entire career with the Boston Red Sox (1961-1983) potentially filling the shoes of retired Red Sox star Ted Williams. Yastrzemski both filled Williams place at the plate hitting 452 home runs in his career, but was an upgrade in the field as an excellent fielder sporting a .981 fielding percentage. Yaz was a fixture at the All-Star game, garnered 18 selections and was able to manage the torturous Green Monster with ease earning seven Gold Gloves in left for the Red Sox. Yaz was a three time batting champion winning the American League’s Most Valuable Player award during his 1967 Triple Crown season. For his 23-year career, Yastrzemski compiled a .285 career batting average with 3,419 hits, 1,816 runs, 1,844 RBI and 452 home runs. Carl Michael Yastrzemski was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1989.
Johnny Lee Bench (December 7, 1947-) is considered to be amongst the greatest catchers that Major League Baseball has ever seen and was the team leader that led the Cincinnati Reds "Big Red Machine" to back-to-back World Series titles in 1975 and 1976. Bench was a smart ballplayer, with an exceptional work ethic, who starred for his high school baseball and basketball teams and was named class valedictorian in his senior year. The Cincinnati Reds then took Johnny with the 36th overall pick of the 1965 MLB Amateur Draft. He spent two seasons with the Buffalo Bisons before getting the call-up to the big leagues. In 1968, Bench hit .275 with 15 home runs and 82 RBI to win the National League’s Rookie of the Year Award and his first All-Star selection while also posting a .991 fielding percentage and a 47% caught stealing percentage to win his first Rawlings Golden Glove. These accolades were early signs of what was to come. He won ten consecutive Gold Gloves behind the plate, second only to Ivan Rodriquez who won 13. In 1969, he set the single season caught stealing percentage record gunning down 57% of the opponent’s would-be base stealers and also posted a .992 fielding percentage. That same year, at the plate, Johnny led the NL with 45 home runs and 148 RBI while batting .293 to win the NL Most Valuable Player Award. Two years later, he would repeat as NL MVP, again leading the National League in home runs (40) and RBI (125) as well as throwing out 56% of the opposition’s base runners – second all-time in single season caught stealing percentage.
Bench led a host of All-Stars and future Hall of Famers like Pete Rose, Dave Concepcion, Ken Griffey, Tony Perez, Joe Morgan and George Foster during the 1970s, helping the Reds reach the World Series four times (1970, 1972, 1975, 1976). The potent, well-oiled offense of Cincinnati earned the moniker "Big Red Machine" and could beat you with power or manufacture runs. The Reds beat the Boston Red Sox four-games-to-three in what is considered one of the greatest World Series in history and then repeated as champions in 1976, sweeping the New York Yankees. The 14-time MLB All-Star was named the 1976 World Series MVP after batting .533 with two homers and six RBI in four games. Johnny Bench was the Cincinnati Reds catcher for 17 seasons (1967-1983) and was formidable hitter at the plate as he posted a .267 career batting average with 389 home runs and 1,376 RBI. Bench also finished his career with a .990 fielding percentage behind the plate, winning 10 Gold Gloves, and gunning down 44% of the would-be base stealers. Johnny Bench popularized the one-handed style of catching that is commonplace in the game today. Johnny Lee Bench was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1989. Since retiring, Bench has remained active in sports even attempting a run at the Senior PGA Tour after turning fifty. The Sporting News ranked him #16 on the "100 Greatest Baseball Players" list.