02/27/11 4:37 PM EST
Hall of Famer Snider passes away at 84
By Marty Noble / MLB.com
The disclosure that the interborough animosity had risen to such a petty level was made years ago by a player who once had worn Dodger Blue and, later, the colors of Mays, Mize and Mueller -- one Edwin Donald Snider, better known as "Duke." Snider -- who passed away Sunday morning at the age of 84 at the Valle Vista Convalescent Hospital in Escondido, Calif. -- not only was a member of the great, if somewhat under-accomplished Dodgers teams of the '50s, but he also was a prominent figure in baseball's Hatfields v. McCoys.
The hatred was a two-way street. One side was Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, the other West 155th in Manhattan. No true fan of either New York entry in the National League could walk down the middle.
Snider's Dodgers association alone was enough to inflame the patrons of the Polo Grounds, the Giants' bathtub-shaped home, but the Silver Fox was an even greater irritant because of a level of performance that eventually led to his election to the Hall of Fame. Moreover, Snider was the Dodgers' entry in the city's eternal center fielders debate. Forget Mickey Mantle -- he was for a league of his own -- no self-respecting Giant or Giants admirer could suffer the argument that Snider was a more skilled or accomplished player than Willie Mays. And Dodgers devotees were certain their No. 4 was No. 1.
So while Pee Wee Reese, Gil Hodges and Roy Campanella might have been more popular than The Duke in Brooklyn, Giants devotees hated Snider more than the other Boys of Summer. And they feared him more as well. Snider was the Dodgers' primary slugger and run producer. Indeed he hit the most home runs (326) and ranked first in RBIs (1,031) and second in runs (970) in all of baseball in the 1950s. Moreover, in most cases -- Pete Rose being an exception -- the opponents' slugger prompts the greatest dislike.
All that said, Snider played the final of his 18 seasons wearing black and orange, and not as some Halloween disguise. A member of the second-year Mets in 1963, he was sold to the Giants on Opening Day 1964 and became the embedded Dodger. Then again, Juan Marichal pitched for the Dodgers, but that was a different era with a different issue.
No matter the color scheme, Snider was a Dodger or former Dodger throughout his career. He never was introduced as "the former Met," or, worse, "the one-time Giant." He was through and through Blue in the last 64 of his 84 years.
The Duke even was born in Southern California, a few dozen Carl Furillo throws from the L.A. Coliseum, the Dodgers' home in the first four years after their move from Brooklyn. Snider, who maintained a residence in Southern California throughout his life, played one season -- 1962 -- in Dodger Stadium. He was the team's captain that year.
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.
Fans embraced his power and center field acumen, of course. And despite his being as approachable and amenable as any of his colleagues, Snider wasn't sainted in the borough as were Pee Wee, Gil, Campy, Jackie, Scoonj, Newk and Oisk. Perhaps it was that he once had let his public know he didn't fully appreciate all aspects of its interest in the Dodgers.
Yet, 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.
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."
And after a wrecking ball -- the same one that would level the Polo Grounds -- had demolished beloved Ebbets Field, he offered this lament: "We wept. Brooklyn was a lovely place to hit. If you got a ball in the air, you had a chance to get it out. When they tore down Ebbets Field, they tore down a little piece of me."
In his time in Brooklyn, Snider's performance had the majority of Dodgers loyalists on his side, and the others routinely forgave him his indiscretions because he hit and he covered center without Mays' flair or Mantle's speed, but quite effectively. More to the point, the Duke, Eddie Mathews and Stan Musial were the primary left-handed sluggers in the National League in the late '40s and early-to-mid '50s.
Beginning with his first full season, 1949, and through the '57 season (after which Walter O'Malley eliminated the borough's identity and primary passion), Snider averaged 107 runs, 109 RBIs, 35 home runs and 73 extra-base hits in 154-game seasons. His averages were .305 (batting), .387 (on-base) and .568 (slugging). He finished in the top 10 in six MVP votes, placing second in 1955, his best all-around season and the season that led to the team's lone World Series championship in Brooklyn.
In '55, Snider batted .309 with a career high in RBIs, 136, and the second-highest home run and run totals of his career -- 42 and 126. He was runner-up, by five points, to Campanella in the MVP vote. He was denied the award by a ballot cast by a hospitalized voter who had Campanella listed twice, first and fifth. Campanella received the first-place vote; the fifth-place vote was ruled invalid. Snider would have won had that one ballot been invalidated or if he had been awarded the fifth-place points.
Though The Duke was 31 when the Dodgers moved from Brooklyn, his rates of production declined dramatically when he played in the Coliseum. Ebbets Field had favored left-handed batters, and Snider benefitted from being the other power in the Dodgers' predominantly right-handed batting order. The Coliseum had a spacious right field that swallowed fly balls Ebbets Field couldn't hold. After hitting 207 home runs and averaging 117 RBIs in his final five seasons in Brooklyn, Snider hit 73 homers and averaged 54 RBIs during his five seasons in L.A.
Snider might have antcipated a decline. He was familiar with the Coliseum from having attended events there as a child and teenager. Yet he was taken aback by the field dimensions created for big league baseball. Sports Illustrated brought him by limousine to the Dodgers' new home well before the first game of the '58 season. He saw flags in what he knew would be right field. His reaction was akin to how Bobby Murcer reacted to playing at Shea Stadium in 1974 after years of regularly reaching the upper deck in right in the original Yankee Stadium.
When Snider was sold to the Mets on April 1, 1963, his skills had so eroded that he no longer could exploit the dimensions of their first home, the dilapidated Polo Grounds. He batted .243 with 14 home runs in 415 plate appearances. Those numbers and his request to play for a winning team led to another transfer and his Halloween season in San Francisco.
Snider's career numbers include 407 home runs, 1,333 RBIs, 1,259 runs and a .295 batting average. His home run and RBI totals with the Dodgers -- 389 and 1,271 -- are franchise records. He scored 1,199 runs (third most) and batted .300 in 6,640 at-bats, the seventh most in club history. His postseason run production was better, on average, than what he did in the regular season -- 26 RBIs, 21 runs and 11 home runs in 36 World Series games. No player, performing for the National League champion, has hit as many home runs and driven in as many runs in the World Series as Snider.
In 27 World Series games against the Yankees from 1952 through 1956, he batted .323 with 10 home runs, 24 RBIs and 18 runs in 102 at-bats. He narrowly missed a home run -- it was foul -- in Don Larsen's perfect game in 1956. He had two series in which he hit four home runs, 1952 and 1955.
For all that, Main Street in Cooperstown turned into Flatbush Avenue in 1980, Duke's 11th year on the writers' ballot. Robinson, Snider's hero when he competed at UCLA, had preceded Duke in the Hall by 18 years, Campanella by 11. Reese would follow Snider by four. The Boys of Summer have no other bona fide representatives in the Hall. Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale pitched in Ebbets Field, but they made their beans on Chavez Ravine's steep mound.
Even in his induction, Snider saw -- or heard -- black and orange. The Hall of Fame Class of '80 also included Russ Hodges, the Giants announcer and the man whose shouted call -- "The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!" -- in 1951 still rankles Dodgers fans.
Hodges' introduction preceded Snider's that day in Cooperstown, and a recording of Hodges' call of Bobby Thomson's home run was played as part of it, prompting Snider to stand and kiddingly gesture for those gathered to boo.
Snider played in one World Series as a Los Angeles Dodger, in 1959, and he won a second ring. After his retirement, he returned to Montreal, where he had played in the Minors in the late '40s, and worked as a color analyst for Expos telecasts. It hardly was his first TV gig; Snider had appeared in an episode of "The Rifleman" series that starred his one-time Dodgers teammate Chuck Connors. He played a bad guy, Wallace Bailey, in a January 1959 episode. He was slow on the draw.
Forty-six years later, he made an appearance off-Broadway. He, Mantle and Mays were the guests of honor at the annual winter dinner staged by the New York Chapter of the Baseball Writers' Assocation of America in Manhattan. They were the inaugural winners of the "Willie, Mickey and The Duke Award," presented to those permanently linked in our memories. The three were dressed in tuxedos and seated on a dais, they said, for the first time ever. Mantle died later that year.
Introduced first, Snider deferred to his fellow center fielders and tipped his invisible blue cap to the borough. The remnants of the Brooklyn he knew and the Brooklyn that knew him reveled in his return and all he represented. But the borough wished The Duke would have held his tongue about center field.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.