Diana Munson reminisces about her husband Thurman at Yankees' Old-Timers' Day

Undated file photo of Thurman Munson.

Undated file photo of Thurman Munson.

For years, Diana Munson asked questions she knew could never be answered.

Why was her husband, Thurman, unable to safely land his Cessna Citation at Akron-Canton Airport on Aug. 2, 1979? Why was such a good man -- devoted to her, to their three children and to the Yankees -- taken at age 32? Why was such a brilliant career, one that brought Rookie of the Year and MVP awards and two World Series championships, cut short in its 11th season?

Why? Why? Why?

Diana, 64, thought of the questions related to her husband's all-too-soon death as she sat in the Yankees' dugout before the start of Old-Timers' Day ceremonies Sunday. She shook her head as one who finally has dismissed them forever.

"I don't go there anymore," she said. "I used to in the beginning, but now I am more grateful for what I have and how long I had Thurman."

Their storybook relationship began at Worley Elementary School in Canton, Ohio. They delivered newspapers together after school. Thurman's love for her and their three children ultimately drove him to learn to fly so he could spend lonely off days at home.

"It will be 34 years in August," Diana said of the practice landing that went so terribly awry, "and people are still so kind and loving about how he played, the way he conducted his life. They never forget him.

"Grown men wearing his uniform come up and tell me memories they have of him, and it usually starts with tears."

For all of the Yankees' glorious history, Munson remains the only player to win both the Rookie of the Year (1970) and MVP (1976) awards. In his MVP season, he led the Yankees to the first of their three successive World Series berths, batting .302 with 17 home runs and 105 RBIs.

The gray-haired fans who wore Munson's No. 15 to Yankee Stadium on Sunday, who wear it so many other days, will never forget his .357 postseason average with three homers, 22 RBIs and 19 runs scored in 30 games. His World Series batting average: .373.

"He was cocky," Diana said, "but he could always back it up. He worked hard to achieve something monumental."

Munson's locker remains intact at the Yankees' museum. As the late owner George Steinbrenner wrote as part of the inscription on the plaque that honors the catcher in Monument Park: "Our captain and leader has not left us . . . Our endeavors will reflect our love and admiration for him."

Diana said the move to the new Yankee Stadium in 2009 helped her cope with her emotions. "I don't have the memories here," she said.

In 1976, Munson was named the first Yankees captain since Lou Gehrig. Munson famously clashed with Reggie Jackson over the club's leadership. He often presented a gruff, forbidding exterior to reporters. Diana, though, was allowed to see beyond the bluster and braggadocio.

"He had a tender, gentle side he didn't show a lot of people," she said. "He did things behind the scenes with charities and people who were in need of a little help. He always said to me, 'You cannot be my cheerleader. You cannot tell people.' "

So much time has passed. Now Diana proudly leads the cheers.

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