Diana Munson reached out to Jean Stottlemyre after her husband, former Yankees pitcher and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre, died Jan. 13 after a nearly 20-year battle with cancer.
“Welcome to this awful, awful club,’’ Jean Stottlemyre, in a radio interview Sunday, said Munson told her. It was Jean Stottlemyre’s first visit to Old-Timers’ Day at Yankee Stadium without Mel.
Diana Munson essentially is the keeper of the flame in a group that includes the widows of Billy Martin, Bobby Murcer, Jim (Catfish) Hunter and, now, Stottlemyre. Her husband, Thurman, the Yankees’ captain, died Aug. 2, 1979, when his plane crashed during landing exercises at Akron-Canton Airport in his home state of Ohio. Munson, who was 32, became a pilot so he could visit his family more often during the season.
“It’s a club you never want to join,’’ Diana Munson said. “We love Jean but obviously were very sorry to have lost Mel. But he fought a good fight.’’
Diana Munson joined Jill Martin, Kay Murcer and Jean Stottlemyre for the on-field introductions. Billy Martin, who played for and managed the Yankees, died in an automobile accident on Dec. 25, 1989. Bobby Murcer, a popular player who later became a Yankees broadcaster, died in 2008 from complications related to brain cancer.
Diana Munson received a loud ovation. “It’s 40 years, and when I see people with No. 15 jerseys, I always go hug them,’’ she said. “It means so much to me that they have that kind of love and loyalty.’’
It is a difficult reminder, she said, but also uplifting for her to return each year. “What I can’t believe is that they are still honoring him and remembering him,’’ she said. “New Yorkers are loyal and they never forget.’’
Thurman Munson would have turned 72 earlier this month. He had a career batting average of .292 and had three seasons of at least 100 RBIs during his 11-year career with the Yankees.
“Mr. [George] Steinbrenner always said he would manage, he was grooming him to be manager,’’ Diana Munson said.
She feels certain her husband would have remained with the Yankees, saying “The Yankees were always part of him and always will be.’’