Lidle, Munson tragedies share a baseball bond

Updated: January 26, 2007, 11:07 AM ET
By William Weinbaum | Special to ESPN.com

Jeff Anderson was one lucky kid in the summer of 1979.

On Aug. 1 of that year, he turned nine years old and his parents gave him a shiny red bike.

The next day, he was riding the new bike when his mother Jody ran out of the house screaming about an accident. Jeff's father Jerry, a licensed pilot, was a passenger when the plane piloted by his friend, New York Yankees captain Thurman Munson, crashed in Canton, Ohio.

But Jerry Anderson survived, as did Dave Hall, Munson's flight instructor. Both suffered severe burns.

For 25 years, neither Anderson nor Hall spoke publicly about the ill-fated flight, until Anderson poignantly recounted for ESPN viewers his recollections of Munson's desperate attempts to avert the crash and his dying words of concern for his two passengers.

When contacted Wednesday by ESPN, Jeff and Jerry Anderson had already learned of Yankee pitcher Cory Lidle's tragic plane crash in New York.

The father and son were at work together in the Florida hangar they operate when Jody called with the news that Lidle's plane slammed into a Manhattan apartment building.

For Jeff, it didn't just hit home because of Jerry's survival 27 years ago. Jeff had a fond, though fleeting, connection to the Lidle family.

A former minor league utility player, Anderson was a teammate of Lidle's twin brother, Kevin, in 2000 with the independent Somerset (N.J.) Patriots. He said Lidle, who had reached Triple-A ball, didn't hold against him that he'd spent a baseball eternity toiling in independent leagues.

"Kevin was the first player to welcome me when I joined the ballclub and it meant a lot that he reached out, because I knew he had a brother in the big leagues and was close to the majors himself," Jeff Anderson said.

"It gave me the confidence to hit a grand slam in my first at-bat with the team [as a pinch-hitter]."

In another odd coincidence, the manager of the Patriots was Sparky Lyle, who had won a Cy Young Award with his close friend Munson as his catcher, a generation before managing Jeff Anderson and Kevin Lidle.

Jeff Anderson said that although he didn't know Cory Lidle, he always respected the determination the pitcher showed in achieving a decade-long big league career.

Although Anderson never fulfilled a dream of following in the footsteps of his father's friend Munson and play in Yankee Stadium, he won an Atlantic League championship with Lyle at the helm in 2001. Anderson concluded a 10-year career in the minors the following season.

Ingrained in his memory, Anderson says, is "4:02:23 p.m.," the time of the fatal Munson crash from which his father escaped.

"That pops into my head any time an accident happens," he said.

William Weinbaum is an ESPN television producer.