Hall of Fame center fielder Duke Snider dies at 84

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“I remember the first time I met him. It’s almost like you’re meeting a god, a baseball hero for all of us,” he said.

Snider hit at least 40 homers 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 is the Dodgers’ franchise leader in home runs (389) and RBIs (1,271). He led all major leaguers in the 1950s with 326 homers and 1,031 RBIs.

Carl Erskine was Snider’s roommate for 10 years and the two shared a house at spring training in Vero Beach, Fla., with their families.

Duke played so great when I pitched,” he recalled. “He just made so many plays in the World Series for me, and he seemed to play his best when I pitched.”

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.

For a team that kept preaching “Wait till next year” after World Series losses to the Yankees in 1953, ‘52, ‘49, ‘47 and ‘41, it was indeed next year. A generation later, long after they’d all grown old, those Dodgers were lauded as the “Boys of Summer” in Roger Kahn’s book.

“He was the true Dodger and represented the Dodgers to the highest degree of class, dignity and character,” Hall of Fame Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda said.

Orlando Cepeda, a Hall of Famer with the Giants, said Snider provided 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 said. “He was one of my idols. I almost fainted.”

Born Edwin Donald Snider, he got his nickname at an early age. Noticing his son return home from a game with somewhat of a strut, Snider’s dad said, “Here comes the Duke.”

Even though his mom preferred Ed, the name stuck. So did Snider, once he played his first game in the majors in 1947, two days after Jackie Robinson’s historic debut.

A durable slugger with a strong arm, good instincts on the bases and a regal style, Snider hit the last home run at Ebbets Field in 1957.

Snider’s swing gave the Dodgers a lefty presence on a team of mostly righties. He often launched shots over the short right-field wall at the Brooklyn bandbox, rewarding a waiting throng that gathered on Bedford Avenue. “The Duke’s up,” fans in the upper deck would shout to those on the street.

Snider had a wild swing that was harnessed by Branch Rickey, who made him practice standing at home plate with a bat on his shoulder calling balls and strikes but forbidden to swing.

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