Recently, we at the RJG were able to ask Marty Appel, former PR Director of the Yankees and author of "Munson: The Life and Death of a Yankee Captain", some questions about his book, and his time with the Yankees. We hope you enjoy the interview:
1. Munson had a rough upbringing particularly in his relationship with his father. Do you think Munson could have been the player he was without this upbringing?
Probably. He was remarkably athletic and very competitive. I don't think his relationship issues fueled either one enough to make the difference between being a big leaguer and not. But it's interesting to speculate on it I suppose.
2. You were the PR director when the infamous "wife swapping" incident occurred with Yankee players Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich. Tell us a little bit about that and how you handled it.
I have to say it handled me, not the other way around. I hadn't really been trained to deal with wife swapping by players. Mostly I just fielded calls and said, "the Yankees do not condone such things, but we prefer to consider it a private matter between the parties." The tumult lasted a week, then settled down. Not like it would be today.
3. In your book, you talk about Munson's general dislike of Boston catcher Carlton Fisk. Can you sum up the reasons for this dislike?
Thurman was upset with the attention lavished on Fisk in the '70s, when Pudge was hurt for long stretches almost every year, and Thurman never once went on the D.L. He felt his value was greatly diminished by that, yet he kept earning plaudits. He thought Curt Gowdy on the NBC Game of the Week overdid praise for Fisk - even leading to his winning all-star elections when Thurman was clearly having a better year.
4. Thurman Munson spent his whole life calling his wife the wrong name (he was off by a letter). How'd he get away with that? Because if I did that, I'd be toast.
She was Diane to everyone back then, and it somehow changed to Diana later on. Those of us who knew her way back when still say Diane, although sometimes by mistake. Either way, she's a great lady.
5. Munson was not exactly warm with the media, generally didn't answer questions, and wasn't big on signing autographs. He was nonetheless a beloved player. That seems almost impossible in today's media saturated age, where player's actions are dissected on and off the field and privacy is hard to maintain (particularly when you play in NYC). Was there something different about the media coverage in the 70s, or was there something about Munson that made him so beloved
despite the distance he tried to keep from the media/public? How do you think Munson would fare if he were playing in New York today?
There was something about playing in New York that made it work for him. The fans saw around the bad press and just loved him the way he was. He was 'our guy.' Media coverage has changed a lot - lots more forms of media, lots more people. He would have hated them all. But the fans would have loved him even if Mike and the Mad Dog roasted him.
6. You were with the Yankees when the Boss took over after purchasing the team from CBS for $10,000 and a pack of smokes. How different do you think Hal's management of the team is?
Unless Mr. Steinbrenner's sons get more involved, and that could evolve, it's night and day. Mr. Steinbrenner rewrote the script for how owners get involved. Except for Bill Veeck and Charlie Finley, who had very small operations, owners let the GMs run the baseball side and talk to the press. All that changed with the arrival of The Boss.
7. Do you have any stories about George Steinbrenner you'd care to tell us?
It's easier to tell them far removed from the day to day. He could be terribly difficult to work for; you never thought you were getting it right. But in retrospect, he made me a better executive and a better publicist, and hey, it was exciting to know that by the end of the day, we'd be involved with something that would get us on the back page of the Daily News the next morning. if you're in PR - that's pretty good. I look back on him with fondness.
8. What player today reminds you most of Thurman Munson and why?
Jorge Posada has seemed to take on his leadership skills. He's a general behind the plate. He didn't mature into the role as quickly as Thurman did, but I can see it there now. And he's clearly earned his spot in that photo of great Yankee catchers, with Dickey, Berra, Howard and Thurman.
9. On page 75 of your book on Munson, you said that writers referred to Munson's 1971 season, in which he hit .251, the sophomore jinx. Was this the first time that phrase was coined?
No it was probably in 1877, the second season of the National League, after everybody's rookie season. Some guys must have had bad years!
10. From a PR stand point, how did you feel about David Ortiz's recent press conference about his failed drug test?
Big Papi has built up a lot of good will in the fan bank over the years. That's not a bad thing at all. Popular hometown players have a chance to ride this out I think. They loved Barry in SF. Pettitte was forgiven. If A-Rod just plays baseball and stays out of controversy, New York will cheer him too as he heads for the home run record.
Many thanks to Marty Appel for answering our questions! His book "Munson: The Life and Death of a Yankee Captain" is on sale now!