- Associated Press - Sunday, February 27, 2011

Duke Snider, the Hall of Fame center fielder for the charmed “Boys of Summer” who helped the Dodgers bring their elusive and only World Series crown to Brooklyn, died Sunday. He was 84.

Snider died at the Valle Vista Convalescent Hospital in Escondido, Calif., said the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, which announced the death on behalf of the family.

The family said he died of natural causes.

“The Duke of Flatbush” hit .295 with 407 career home runs, played in the World Series six times and won two titles. But the eight-time All-Star was defined by much more than his stats — he was, after all, part of the love affair between the borough of Brooklyn and “Dem Bums” who lived in the local neighborhoods.

Ebbets Field was filled with stars such as Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella and Gil Hodges during that 1955 championship season. Yet it is Snider’s name that refrains in the ballpark favorite “Talkin’ Baseball.”

Willie, Mickey, and the Duke,” the popular song goes.

Snider wore No. 4 in Dodger blue and was often regarded as the third-best center fielder in New York — behind Willie Mays of the Giants and Mickey Mantle of the Yankees — during what many fans considered the city’s golden era of baseball.

“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.

Hall of Famer Willie McCovey called Snider one of his favorite players growing up. The two were teammates briefly when Snider joined the San Francisco Giants in 1964, his last season.

“He’s just a first-class guy, that’s all,” McCovey told The Associated Press. “A great power hitter and center fielder.”

Orlando Cepeda, also a Hall of Famer with the Giants, said Snider provided one one of his biggest thrills when he broke into the majors in 1958.

“When I came to first base, the opening game, he said to me, ‘Orlando, good luck, good luck,’” Cepeda told the AP. “He was one of my idols. I almost fainted.”

Snider hit at least 40 home runs in five straight seasons and led the NL in total bases three times. He never won an MVP award, although a voting error may have cost him the prize in 1955. He lost to Campanella by a very narrow margin — it later turned out an ill voter left Snider off the ballot, supposedly by mistake.

Snider hit .309 with 42 homers and a career-high 136 RBIs in 1955. That October, he hit four homers, drove in seven runs and hit .320 as the Dodgers beat the Yankees in a seven-game Series.

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