Categorized | Mark Timmons

The Duke

The Duke

The Dodgers won 5-0 yesterday for their first Spring Training win, but you already know all that. 

We will never forget The Duke!

I thought that a Doger Magazine article on Duke Snider was more appropriate to commemorate his passing and celebrate his life. 

The will only be one “Duke.” 

The article below is written by Dodger Historian, Mark Langill:

It took a simple “Babe” to make household names of George Ruth, Floyd Herman and Mildred Didrikson – also respectively known as baseball’s early home-run king, a longtime Dodger outfielder, and a pioneer in women’s athletics.

Dodger legend Duke Snider can thank his father for name recognition, receiving his famous moniker at age 5, long before he became a Hall of Fame outfielder with the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers from 1947-62.

“My dad saw that I was pretty active in sports,” Snider said. “And Edwin just doesn’t seem to have the same ring that Duke does. And so he started calling me Duke. My mom kept calling me Edwin. But he called me Duke. And ‘The Duke of Flatbush’ sounds better than ‘The Edwin of Flatbush.’”

Edwin Donald Snider was born in Los Angeles on September 19, 1926. He was an all-around athlete growing up and was a standout in football, baseball and basketball at Compton High School, which was located on the campus of Compton Community College, which today includes Major League Baseball’s Urban Youth Academy.

“(Compton) was a great place to grow up,” Snider said. “It was very well supported by the people who lived there. The coaching staffs at all the schools were excellent and they had all the kids in mind. They taught the proper way to play the game. I have nothing but favorable things to say about my youth in Southern California.”

Snider’s success in sports, especially football, caught the attention of major colleges, including Stanford University. But his first love was always baseball

“I grew up knowing more about baseball than any other sport,” he said. “I played football and basketball, but I wasn’t as good as I was in baseball.”

The Dodgers signed Snider at age 17 in 1943. He briefly played in the low minors before entering the Navy. But his time in the military didn’t interfere with his baseball development.

“We played baseball almost every day when I was in Guam with the submarine tender,” he said. “So I really didn’t miss playing baseball. It wasn’t professionally, but there were some pretty good service teams at that time that I played with and against. Eighteen months is a season and a half in baseball, but actually I didn’t miss anything because I was young, just 18 or 19 years old, and as a result, being in the service didn’t hamper my progress as a player.”

When the Dodgers first called up Snider in 1947, the outfield competition included Gene Hermanski, strong-armed Carl Furillo (who later would become a fixture in right field), and Pete Reiser, the former National League batting champion facing the crossroads of his career at age 28 because of frequent injuries.

Snider batted .241 in 40 games with the Dodgers in 1947, but he wasn’t included on the World Series roster. Snider made the Opening Day roster in 1948, but was sent back to Montreal with a .158 batting average on May 17. Dodger team president Branch Rickey challenged Snider to compile enough numbers to earn another promotion to the big leagues. Snider responded with a .327 average in 77 games with 17 home runs.

In early August 1948, Snider enjoyed a productive doubleheader at the plate in Montreal with Rickey in the grandstands. If Snider had any reservations about returning to the Dodgers, he didn’t tell Rickey during their postgame conversation.

“After the doubleheader, he came into the clubhouse and said, ‘You played very well tonight.’ I said, ‘Thank you, Mister Rickey. Don’t you think the numbers I put up are enough to make you call me back?’ He said, ‘I’m glad you brought that up because I want you to pack your uniform, catch tomorrow morning’s plane and fly to Brooklyn. You’re my center fielder tomorrow night in Brooklyn.’

“My mouth flew open, of course. Everybody heard it and went over and congratulated me. I went there and became the regular center fielder.”

Snider batted .292 in 146 games with 23 home runs and 92 RBI during the regular season in 1949. But in the World Series, an anxious Snider managed just three hits in 21 at-bats (.143) as the Dodgers lost the World Series in five games to the Yankees.

“The 1949 World Series was my first World Series and since I was a little kid growing up in Southern California, I dreamed of playing in a World Series and against the Yankees,” he said. “And there I was at Yankee Stadium. Opening game and Allie Reynolds, the hard-throwing right-hander for the Yankees was there. The harder he threw, the harder I swung. I tied a World Series record by striking out eight times in five games. Later, a first baseman for the San Diego Padres broke that record and I was happy to lose that one.”

When the Dodgers returned to the World Series in 1952, Snider was 26 years old with 109 home runs under his belt. Although the Dodgers lost the Series in seven games against the Yankees, Snider sparkled at the plate, batting .345 (10-for-29) with four home runs and eight RBI.

“Several years go by, a lot of maturity, a lot of learning about myself as a baseball player and as a hitter,” Snider said. “I was a much more mature hitter when I came back to the World Series in 1952. The same Reynolds is pitching and I hit my first World Series home run. And I knew that I belonged because I had come back and hit it against the guy who made me look back in the other series. I went on to hit four home runs in the series, which at the time was the record. Reggie Jackson has since broken the record with five home runs in a World Series. I hit 4 home runs in two different World Series (1952 and 1955), so I still have that distinction.”

During the 1950s, Snider hit home runs than any other player in the Major Leagues. But his defense also drew rave reviews from Dodger teammates.

“Duke hit so many home runs, he was a great offensive player,” said former Dodger pitcher Roger Craig. “But he was also a great defensive player. He could jump higher than any outfielder I ever saw. He could go up two steps against a fence and catch a ball. He had the instincts how to get the jump on a ball. And most of the time, he was our only left-handed hitter in the lineup. He took advantage of the right-handed pitchers.”

“People didn’t grasp how great of an outfielder Duke Snider was because we played in a small ballpark,” said Don Zimmer, a former Dodger infielder. “Ebbets Field was a small ballpark. Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle could run all day, that’s how specious their ballparks were at the Polo Grounds and Yankee Stadium. But Duke Snider was a tremendous center fielder.”

After another World Series loss to the Yankees in 1953 and a second-place finish in 1954 under rookie manager Walter Alston, the Dodgers finally broke though in 1955. They opened the season with records of 10-0 and 22-2 en route to the National League pennant. In the World Series, the Dodgers lost the first two games at Yankee Stadium, but rebounded to win the next three at Ebbets Field. In the decisive Game 7, Johnny Podres pitched a 2-0 victory, aided by Sandy Amoros’ spectacular catch of Yogi Berra’s opposite field drive to left in the sixth inning. Amoros turned potential disaster into a double play and the Dodger veterans were stunned after the ninth inning, trying to comprehend their success after so many years of heartbreak against their New York postseason rivals.

“We always seemed to play the Yankees,” Snider said. “In 1955 when we finally beat them, it took a little while for it to sink in. We were a little quiet in the clubhouse. Somebody hollered, ‘Hey, we won!’ And then we just let it go. It was really a beautiful celebration. Then we had a big dinner in downtown Manhattan at the Roosevelt Hotel. We just had a wonderful time. There were two buses going back to Brooklyn and the streets were just lined with people in Brooklyn. I guess word had gotten out about what our route was going to be because there was a ticker-tape parade from Yankee Stadium back to Brooklyn. And I think it was a relief for everybody because sentimentally, we were the favorite throughout the country as far as winning a world championship was concerned.”

Snider remained with the Dodgers until spring training 1963, when his contract was sold to the New York Mets. He finished his career with the San Francisco Giants in 1964 and returned to the Dodger organization as a minor league manager. Snider later joined the Montreal Expos as a broadcaster and a batting coach. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1980 and his Dodger uniform No. 4 was retired in Oldtimers Day ceremonies that featured Snider entering the ballpark from beyond the center field fence, accompanied by Joe DiMaggio and Willie Mays, two other great outfielders of Snider’s time in New York.

Looking back on his Dodger career, Snider will always have fond memories of his “Boys of Summer” teammates and the philosophy of playing for a common goal.

“That’s the way we were brought up; we were taught that in the Dodger organization,” he said. “The won and loss records were the only important category in baseball. Actually, winning the pennant was the most important. My individual numbers were not important. I had quite a few teammates who were very good friends and still are. Some have passed away. Carl Erskine and I were roommates for 11 years and we’re still very good friends. We’d ride with Pee Wee Reese every day to the ballpark. We were a close-knit unit. I think the word is overused now, but we were a ‘family.’ And we all got along very well.”

About Mark Timmons

When you see the invisible, you can do the impossible!

5 Responses to “The Duke”

  1. Roger Dodger says:

    When the “Boys of Summer” was published, I was living in Bradford, PA, and the Public Library asked me to give a public book review of Roger Kahn’s book at a noon-lunch program. I did and had a lot of fun doing it.

    A number a baseball fans came to the noon-lunch and were very supportive of the book and that experience.

  2. coloblue says:

    I grew up on LI and Duke was my favorite player…I always wore #4 when i played baseball. Fortunately I got to see him many times in Ebbets field when i was a kid…and when he was in his prime before knee injuries took its toll on him.
    Thanks for the memories .Duke..

  3. Michael says:

    It’s like he took the words right out of my mouth; Vin Scully says it all,
    He was an extremely gifted talent and his defensive abilities were often overlooked because of playing in a small ballpark, Ebbets Field. When he had a chance to run and move defensively, he had the grace and the abilities of DiMaggio and Mays and of course, he was a World Series hero that will forever be remembered in the borough of Brooklyn. Although it’s ironic to say it, we have lost a giant. He’s joining a great Dodger team that has moved on and I extend my sympathies to his entire family, especially to Bev.

    Upon my fathers passing I placed a Duke Snider card[his favorite]in his jacket pocket.

    I think we will look real good this season with a 4 on our sleeve. How about we win one for Duke and that great Dodger team in the sky.

    P.S. How about we win one for you and me too

  4. Nice story Michael….

    Duke was one of my favorite players even before they moved to LA….

  5. SpokaneBob says:

    It’s both funny and strange how one persons life can effect another person. I was about 11 years old when our summer grade school softball program took me to my first Major League game. Dodgers against the Cubs in the Coliseum in 1958. I walked through the tunnel and saw the greenest grass in the history of mankind. The Dodger players were dressed in the bright and beautiful whites of the Dodger home uniforms. My memories from that game center on Don Drysdale pitching and hitting an home run that bounced off the top of the left field screen and hearing to pop when Drysdale’s fastball would hit the catchers mitt. And of the Duke hitting a 400 foot plus shot over the right field fence. On that day The Duke became my Hero.

    I called him on New Years Day in ‘59 or ‘60 I am not sure which year. But He talked to me and even though I could tell he was into watching the Rose Bowl Game, he kept talking until I ran out of things to say.

    Bev sent me a post card (signed by the Duke) that I cherish to this day.

    I went to Duke Snider Night at the Coliseum, It was 1961 against the Reds. The Duke didn’t start the first game and the Ceremony was held between games. Duke said he hoped to get a couple of “knocks” in the night cap. In his first two at bats he homered and tripled. When he came to bat for the 3rd time with men on base, the Reds walked him on four pitches.

    So here I am. 64 years old and my boyhood idol has just died. I loved the Duke and will see him on the other side. If truth be told, I fear losing Vinny even more. The only way I can deal with all of this to go back to The Lion King and the circle of life. God bless you Duke and God bless you Vinny.

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