Duke Snider passed away earlier today in Escondido, CA. The former Brooklyn Dodger great was 84.
He was Brooklyn’s CFer during what has been called ‘The Golden Era of Baseball in New York.’ And Golden it was. While Duke played CF for Brooklyn, Willie Mays covered CF for the New York Giants and Mickey Mantle played for the Yankees. Three of the greatest Center Fielders in history, all playing at the same time. And in the same city.
For the 11 year period from 1947-1958, at least one New York team played in the World Series every year, other than 1948.
He was born Edwin Donald Snider in Los Angeles on Sept 19, 1926. One day, the young Snider was walking home from a little league game. He had a good day at the plate and there was a strut in his walk to go along with his beaming smile. His father noticed the bounce in his son’s confident gait and commented jokingly, “Here comes the Duke.” The name stuck.
Snider broke into the majors in 1947 but struggled early. He played only 93 games his first two years, hitting just 241 and 244. He was a wild swinger. It was Branch Rickey who turned around and perhaps saved Snider’s career. He would have Duke stand at the plate during BP, bat on his shoulder and NOT swing. Instead, he wanted the young outfielder to call out if the pitch was a ball or a strike. This taught Snider the strike zone.
And now, he became The Duke of Flatbush.
In a lineup filled with future and should-be Hall of Famers such as Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella, Gil Hodges and Carl Furillo, Snider was the Dodgers’ only LH power hitter. The RF wall in Ebbets Field was only 297 feet away, but it stood 38 feet high, higher then The Green Monster.
The Duke of Flatbush would go on to lead the NL in HR’s for 5 straight seasons. From 1950 through 1957, Snider averaged 36 HR’s and 111 RBI’s to go along with a 306 BA.
Brooklyn fans always stated ‘Wait ‘til next year.’ ‘Next year’ happened in 1955 when the Dodgers won their one and only championship in Brooklyn. And Snider was in the middle of it. He has perhaps his best year, hitting 309 with 42 round trippers and 136 RBI’s. In the 7 game series vs. the Yankees, Snider went deep 4 times and knocked in 7. In spite of his great numbers, he failed to win the MVP, losing by one vote to teammate Roy Campanella. Snider never did win an MVP.
In 1958, now with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Snider walked up to a young Giants rookie just before his first game in the majors. “Good luck, Orlando,” he said to rookie and future Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda. Cepeda stated years later, ‘He was one of my idols. I almost fainted.’
In 1963, Snider returned to New York for one season with the Mets. The following year he returned to the west coast for what would be his final season in the majors. He played for the Giants. Another future Hall of Famer, Willie McCovey said of Snider, ‘He was just an all around first class guy.’
Duke retired after the 64 season. He ended his career with 407 HR’s, a 295 career batting average and 1333 RBI’s. He was an 8 time All-Star, winner of 2 World Series’ and was enshrined in Cooperstown in 1980.
By the 1980’s, the premier LH power hitter for The Boys of Summer had to make appearances at Baseball card shows where he charged for his autograph. He had very little in savings, did not earn a lot as a player and had made some bad investments over the years. In 1995, Snider plead guilty for Tax Evasion. He had failed to report $97,000 he made while appearing at card shows. Sentence was handed down at the Brooklyn Federal Court House, just blocks from where Ebbets Field once stood.
Edwin Donald ‘Duke’ Snider passed away earlier today. He leaves behind 4 children, his wife Beverly, whom he married in his rookie year of 1947 and throngs of fans who idolized him. Snider was the last surviving member of the 1955 Dodgers who were on the field when they won their one and only championship.