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02/27/11 6:01 PM EST

'The Duke' shined in baseball's Golden Age

Hall of Famer Snider led Brooklyn to lone title in 1955

If you're an American of a certain age, and somebody says, "The Duke," it has to mean one of two people -- Duke Snider or John Wayne. It cannot, thankfully, be some European dude from a family that thought it was royalty, but probably was suffering from an overdose of inbreeding.

Snider died Sunday at age 84. He was a representative of what was once considered baseball's Golden Age. It is distinctly possible that baseball's Golden Age is actually happening right now, but we can settle on the notion that Snider played at a time when baseball was the national pastime and held center stage in North American professional sports.

The Duke's prime was also probably the Golden Age of New York baseball. The timeless Terry Cashman song, "Talkin' Baseball," captured the essence of it with "Willie, Mickey and the Duke." These were the center fielders of the Giants, the Yankees and the Dodgers, thus, the center of baseball life at the time.

Snider's third of the turf was in Brooklyn. He was "The Duke of Flatbush." He was an icon among icons in that way, one of "The Boys of Summer," who brought the one and only World Series championship to Brooklyn. When the Dodgers beat the Yankees in seven games in 1955, Snider did more than his part, hitting four home runs and tallying seven RBIs.

The Duke put together a Hall of Fame career. He hit 407 home runs and knocked 40 or more in five consecutive seasons. Like the rest of the Dodgers, he eventually went all the way west to Los Angeles, where he helped the Dodgers win another World Series, but his best work was in Brooklyn.

These were larger-than-life figures at the time, and Snider, with his power-producing, left-handed swing, was as large as anybody. Between the power and the apparent ease with which he roamed the outfield and repeatedly made difficult plays, he was "The Duke." And he always will be.

"He is still revered by Brooklynites everywhere for patrolling center in Ebbets Field with grace and dignity, leading the underdog Dodgers to five pennants and their only World Series title in New York, in 1955," National Baseball Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson said Sunday. "Above it all, he was a fan favorite for his style of play, personality, accessibility, and fondness for playing stickball with kids in the streets of Brooklyn."

"Duke Snider was a great human being, an extraordinary Hall of Fame player and an integral part of Dodger history," Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement issued Sunday. "I have many fond memories of watching Duke play, and I will be forever grateful for getting to know him well in the ensuing years. I extend my deepest condolences to Duke's family, friends and all the Dodger fans."

This was Edwin Donald Snider. He played in an era in which baseball dominated the sporting scene, but then, his outstanding play was one of the reasons for the game's dominance.

"The Duke" is gone now, but in the rich history of the baseball in Brooklyn, of the Dodger franchise, and of the game itself, the memory of Duke Snider can have no expiration date. He was one the game's greats; and his exemplary performances helped to create a great era for the game.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.