Former Brooklyn Dodgers’ centerfielder and Hall of Famer Edwin Donald “Duke” Snider died on February 27, 2011 at the Valle Vista Convalescent Hospital in Escondido, Calif. of natural causes after an illness which lasted several months.
Snider wore the No. 4 in Dodger blue and, although a great hitter and fielder in his own right, was regarded as overshadowed in offensive and defensive prowess to the 2 other centerfielders in New York — Willie Mays of the Giants and Mickey Mantle of the Yankees.
The Duke was an integral part of the Dodgers’ lineup providing homers and RBIs with a repectable batting average from 1949 to 1957 along with his teammate 3rd baseman Gil Hodges. With Snider and Hodges providing power and RBIs, the Brooklyn Dodgers won NL pennants and went to the World Series in 1949, 1952, 1955 and 1956 while narrowly missing out in the 1951 Pennant race on NY Giants’ 3rd baseman Bobby Thomson’s “shot heard ’round the world” walk-off 3 run homer in the decisive 3rd playoff game despite Brooklyn’s holding a double-digit lead in the NL standings at the beginning of September. The Giants had gone 20-5 in September while the Dodgers struggled and were 14-13 down the September stretch to force the playoff.
Snider amassed 207 homers between 1953 and 1957 — at the peak of his career and clubbed 11 homers, drove in 26 runs, garnered 38 hits and posted a respectable .286 BA in the 6 World Series that he played in. He pounded 4 homers each in both the 1952 and 1955 World Series. He led the Dodgers their only Brooklyn World Championship in 1955 in defeating the Yankees by 4 games to 3. Snider also played in the 1959 World Series with the L.A. Dodgers, getting 2 hits including a homer, as they defeated the Chicago White Sox.
MLB.com’s Marty Noble wrote this of The Duke:
…He was The Duke of Flatbush, the one guy with the regal nickname on a team identified as Dem Bums. And he was regarded on every street corner in the borough as superior to Mays and Mantle. Those flights to California after the Brooklyn seasons ended were a hurdle for some fans. And a few of Snider’s colleagues lived year-round in Brooklyn.
Brooklyn loved the Dodgers as Desi loved Lucy, as Ralph loved Alice … as mothers love their children. The borough didn’t always embrace Snider as much as it might have perhaps because he returned to his West Coast roots each autumn. Lord knows, he once left the team in New York and returned home in midseason for the birth of his child. Remarkably, that paternal act led to a demerit on his Brooklyn record.
Whatever his standing was in the borough, Snider said he enjoyed his time as Flatbush royalty. When the Mets staged a celebration of Snider at the Polo Grounds in 1963, he was moved to say: “The Mets are wonderful, but you can’t take the Dodgers out of Brooklyn.”
When the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in 1958, Sniders’ hitting numbers and games played decreased markedly in the spacious L.A. Coliseum after having played his entire career to date in tiny Ebbets Field where a pop-up to rightfield could easily become a homer with the pole set 297 feet away. He remained with the Dodgers until 1962 going to the Mets in 1963 and then to the Giants in 1964. His BA plummeted to .243 in 129 games in 1963 and then to .210 in 91 games in 1964, his final year in MLB. Snider finished his career with 407 homers, 1,333 RBIs, 2,116 hits and a lifetime .295 BA.
AP’s Ben Walker notes:
“Willie, Mickey, and the Duke,” goes the popular ballpark song, which marks its 30th anniversary this year.
Snider wore No. 4 in Dodger blue and was often regarded as the third-best center fielder in New York—behind Mays of the Giants and Mickey Mantle of the Yankees.
“Today, I feel that I have lost a dear friend,” Mays said in a statement. “He was a hero to the fans in Brooklyn and a great Dodger.”
To Snider, the rivalry with Mays and Mantle was made up.
“The newspapers compared Willie, Mickey and I, and that was their thing,” Snider said several years ago. “As a team, we competed with the Giants, and we faced the Yankees in the World Series. So we had a rivalry as a team, that was it. It was an honor to be compared to them, they were both great players.”
Mantle died in 1995 at age 63. Mays, now 79, threw out a ceremonial ball last fall before a playoff game in San Francisco.
“Willie, Duke and Mickey. They were great players in one city, one town. Duke never got the credit of being the outfielder that Mays and Mantle were,” former teammate Don Zimmer said Sunday. “But Duke was a great outfielder. He was a great player.”
Commissioner Bud Selig called Snider an “integral part of Dodger history” and part of an “unparalleled triumvirate of center fielders” in New York.
Snider was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1980 on his 11th try. He was a broadcaster for the Montreal Expos for several seasons—he played in the city as a minor leaguer in the Brooklyn farm system—and later was an announcer with the Dodgers.
“He had the grace and the abilities of [Joe] DiMaggio and Mays and, of course, he was a World Series hero that will forever be remembered in the borough of Brooklyn,” Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully said. “Although it’s ironic to say it, we have lost a giant.”
During his playing career, Snider became an avocado farmer and lived many years in Fallbrook, Calif.
He is survived by his wife, Beverly, whom he married in 1947.
Funeral arrangements were pending.
Zimmer lamented another Dodger gone.
“They’re all passing away,” he said. “There’s not many left.”
Duke Snider, gone at age 84.