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Duke Snider

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Edwin Donald Snider
(The Silver Fox)

Inducted into Hall of Fame in 1980

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Contents

[edit] Introduction

"There is a helluva ballplayer. You can have Willie Mays. I'll take Snider." - Mayo Smith, 1955

A graceful center fielder with a picture-perfect swing, Duke Snider was the biggest bat in the Brooklyn Dodgers' potent lineup of the 1950s. He hit 40 or more homers five consecutive times and led all batters in home runs and RBIs during the decade. "The Duke of Flatbush" is the only player to hit four homers in two different World Series (1952 and 1955), while his 11 Series home runs and 26 RBI are the most ever by a National League player.

[edit] Playing days

Signed by Brooklyn as a 17-year-old, Snider debuted in the minors in 1944 with the Newport News Dodgers, leading the Piedmont League with 34 doubles and 9 homers. He then missed the entire 1945 season and most of the 1946 campaign while serving in the military. He reached the majors at age 20 in 1947 and started in centerfield in place of an injured Pete Reiser for much of the month of June. However, he was soon back in the minors. After hitting .316 with 12 home runs for the St. Paul Saints in 1947 and .327 with 17 homers for the Montreal Royals in 1948, he was back in the bigs for good.

Snider took over as the regular Dodgers centerfielder in 1949. In his first full season, he hit .292 with 23 homers and 92 RBIs and scored 100 times. On the season's final day, he drove in the winning run against the Philadelphia Phillies to give Brooklyn the pennant. However, he struggled in the World Series, hitting .143 and striking out 8 times as his team fell to the New York Yankees in five games. In 1950, he hit .321 with 31 home runs and 107 RBI while leading the National League with 199 hits and being named an All-Star for the first of eight times in his career. Again facing the Phillies on the season's last day with the pennant on the line, he once again came through with a clutch hit. However, runner Cal Abrams was thrown out by Richie Ashburn, and Philadelphia went on to win the NL crown.

In 1952, Snider hit .303 as Brooklyn won another pennant. He starred in that fall's World Series, hitting .345 with 4 home runs and 8 RBI and drove in the winning runs in Games One and Five, but his club fell to the crosstown Yankees in seven. He hit .336 with 42 homers the next summer, but the Dodgers again lost to the Yankees in the World Series. At age 27, he may have had his best season the next year, when he posted averages of .341/.423/.647 with 39 doubles, 10 triples, and 40 home runs along with 130 RBI; he only stole 6 bases though, down from 16 the previous year.

Snider led the NL with 136 runs batted in in 1955, and Brooklyn reached the World Series yet again. In the Fall Classic, he hit a team-high .320 and clubbed 4 homers as the Dodgers finally captured a championship by defeating the Yankees in seven games. The next year, he hit 43 home runs to win the National League crown, but his team fell to the Yankees in the World Series for the fourth time in eight years.

The Dodgers moved to Los Angeles, CA and the cavernous Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in 1958, and Snider went along with them. There is a tendency to think that he played poorly once he got to L.A., but his Adjusted OPS scores show decent years after the move. However, in his first year in Southern California, his home run total dropped to 15. He bounced back with 23 round-trippers in 1959, and the Dodgers captured the NL pennant. That October, his playing time was limited by a knee injury, but he still managed to hit a home run in Game Six as Los Angeles defeated the Chicago White Sox.

Still slowed by injuries, Snider platooned with Ron Fairly the next two summers. In 1960, he hit just .243 but nevertheless had a .366 on-base percentage and a .519 slugging percentage. His contract was purchased by the New York Mets prior to the 1963 campaign, and after a year with the club, he moved on to the San Francisco Giants in 1964, batting just .210 with 4 home runs in his final big league campaign.

[edit] As a broadcaster and afterwards

After his playing days, he was a minor league manager for the Dodgers and San Diego Padres and a broadcaster for the Montreal Expos from 1973 through 1986.

Snider wrote an autobiography called "The Duke of Flatbush". He died of natural causes at Escondido, CA in 2011, aged 84.

[edit] Career analysis

Snider was not an immediate selection to the Hall of Fame, getting 17% of the vote in his first year of eligibility. But the votes had a steady upward trend, and in his eleventh year of eligibility, he was elected. Why was he not selected immediately? Probably for two reasons. First, he was constantly compared to the other center fielders in New York, Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle, who were unusually good. Second, he played most of his career in a hitter's park, so his statistics have a little air in them.

Snider never won the MVP award, but he was in the top 10 six times, including # 2 in 1955 (losing in a very close contest to teammate Roy Campanella) and # 3 in 1953 (another year in which Campanella won).

[edit] Duke and Jackie

As a young rookie in 1947, Snider refused to sign the petition circulated by Dixie Walker and other Dodgers in spring training to block Jackie Robinson from joining the Brooklyn team and breaking baseball's color barrier.

Snider has repeatedly said he did so in part because as a youth he had idolized Robinson for his athletic talents. Seven years older than Snider, Robinson grew up in Pasadena, Calif., and Snider in nearby Compton. The Duke recalled seeing some of Jackie's multisport exploits when Robinson starred at Pasadena Junior College before attending UCLA. (See The Duke of Flatbush, Duke Snider with Bill Gilbert, Page 22.) [1]

(Also see a short but good clip with the Duke speaking about Jackie Robinson breaking into major league baseball. [2] If the link doesn't work, go to mlb.com and click Baseball's Best under the tab Audio & Visual.)

[edit] Duke and Gil

Linked together as the Dodger power tandem, Snider and teammate Gil Hodges led all Major League hitters in two statistics for a decade. Duke had the most homers, 326, and most RBIs, 1,031, during the 1950s. Teammate Hodges was second in both categories.

Another note about Duke and Gil: Hodges got his last hit, a single, off Billy Pierce of the San Francisco Giants on May 5, 1963. The Dodger teammates were briefly reunited that year on the New York Mets. Snider singled in the last at bat of his career on October 3, 1964, while playing for the Giants. He was pinch-hitting for Billy Pierce. Snider promptly scored when former rival Willie Mays homered. A third center fielder from 1950s, Harvey Kuenn, then made the last out of the season.

Lastly, Hodges at 19 played his first and only pre-war game with the Dodgers in 1943. His first Dodger uniform number was 4. After his military service, Hodges became number 14 and Snider wore number 4.

[edit] Duke and Pee Wee

Snider has often credited his friend and teammate Pee Wee Reese as having a calming and beneficial influence on his career. Seven years older, Reese was an established star when Duke joined the Dodgers in 1947 at age 20. Snider, especially in his youth, was talented but tempermental, a perfectionist given to sulking when things were not going well.

When Snider got into one of his moods, Reese would bring him back, pointing out his childish behavior by asking the clubhouse, "Who stole Duke's candy?"

This over the decades this has become an often told story. The two commuted together daily to Ebbets Field from the Bay Ridge area of Long Island. One day the police stopped the car Reese was driving for some traffic infraction. The cop recognized Reese, wished them well in the game and let them pass with no ticket. Soon thereafter, Snider was driving and the same thing happened. Remembering Pee Wee's escape, the Duke identified himself. And the cop said, "I hate baseball."

A graceful and often spectacular outfielder, Snider nonetheless shied away from playing center shallow. And Reese would implore his friend to move closer. And Snider's reply? Big steps or baby steps?

An aging Reese played very briefly in 1958, the team's first year in Los Angeles, but was a Dodger coach for most of that year. After his good friend retired, the Duke became the Dodger captain.

[edit] Career highlights

  • Most home runs 1950s - 326
  • Snider was the brother-in-law of Cliff Ditto.
  • Got the nickname Duke from his parents, because as a very young child they thought he strutted around like he was royalty.
  • Holds the record for the most postseason home runs against a single team, with ten against the Yankees.
  • All-time career leader for the National League in World Series home runs, 11; RBIs, 26; and total bases, 79.
  • Only player to hit four home runs in two World Series, 1952 and 1955.
  • On June 14, 1963 he became the 10th player in MLB history to hit 400 homers.
  • 92% of his home runs came against right-handed pitchers, the highest figure for anyone with at least 250 HR.
  • Second National Leaguer to hit 40 or more homers in five consecutive seasons, 1953-1957. Ralph Kiner was first, his string ending in 1951.
  • First batter to hit 40 home runs but not reach 100 RBIs, plating 92 during an even 40 homer 1957.
  • Holds career record for most home runs off one pitcher, 19 off Famer Robin Roberts
  • His two homers on September 22, 1957 off Robin Roberts of the Philadelphia Phillies were the last hit at Brooklyn's Ebbets Field.
  • His single on April 18, 1958 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was the first Dodger hit in their new home city.
  • His single on April 10, 1962 was the first Dodger hit at Dodger Stadium.
  • Snider has appeared on television numerous times, including as the "mystery guest" a couple of times on "What's My Line?", as well as on "Simon and Simon", "Father Knows Best", and "The Rifleman" (with Chuck Connors).
  • Elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on January 9, 1980 by the Baseball Writers Association of America.
  • First Baseball Card appearance in the 1949 Bowman set.

[edit] Notable Achievements

  • 8-time NL All-Star (1950-1956 & 1963)
  • NL On-Base Percentage Leader (1956)
  • 2-time NL Slugging Percentage Leader 91953 & 1956)
  • 2-time NL OPS Leader (1953 & 1956)
  • 3-time NL Runs Scored Leader (1953-1955)
  • NL Hits Leader (1950)
  • 3-time NL Total Bases Leader (1950, 1953 & 1954)
  • NL Home Runs Leader (1956)
  • NL RBI Leader (1955)
  • NL Bases on Balls Leader (1956)
  • 20-Home Run Seasons: 10 (1949-1957 & 1959)
  • 30-Home Run Seasons: 6 (1950 & 1953-1957)
  • 40-Home Run Seasons: 5 (1953-1957)
  • 100 RBI Seasons: 6 (1950, 1951 & 1953-1956)
  • 100 Runs Scored Seasons: 6 (1949, 1950 & 1953-1956)
  • Won two World Series with the Brooklyn Dodgers (1955) and the Los Angeles Dodgers (1959)
  • Baseball Hall of Fame: Class of 1980

[edit] Further Reading

  • Donald Honig: Mays, Mantle, and Snider: A Celebration, Macmillan, New York, NY, 1987. ISBN 0025512005
  • Roger Kahn: "The Duke of Fallbrook", in The Boys of Summer, Perennial Classics, Harper and Collins Publishers, New York, NY, 2000, pp. 374-385 (originally published in 1972).
  • Duke Snider (as told to George Vass): "The Game I'll Never Forget", Baseball Digest, March 1978, pp. 87-89. [3]
  • Duke Snider with Bill Gilbert: The Duke of Flatbush, Citadel Press, New York, NY, 2002 (originally published in 1988).[4]
  • Fay Vincent: "Duke Snider", in We Would Have Played For Nothing, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2008, pp. 50-75.

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