So long, Duke

Hall of Fame outfielder Duke Snider died yesterday. He was 84 years old.

Edwin Donald Snider. For a couple of decades, he was a baseball god on both coasts. He electrified crowds in Brooklyn and Los Angeles alike. “My Dad started to call me Duke when I was just five years old,” he told The Sporting News on July 27, 1949. “But he never did tell me why. I guess it was just one of those things that stick.” Duke. I love it. He brought a World Series title to Brooklyn in 1955 and LA in 1959. The Dodgers were still waiting for Chavez Ravine to be built so the game was played at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Game 5 of the ’59 Series shattered MLB attendance records for a WS game, over 92,000. That won’t be broken until Jerry Jones convinces Bud Selig to let him host a World Series in Texas. Fat chance.

Baptismal Brew. New York, New York: Slugger Duke Snider, left, and Don Newcombe enjoy having beer poured on their hatted heads in the dressing room after the Dodgers won their first World Series. Behind the sterling pitching of Johnny Podres, the Dodgers beat the Yankees 2-0, in the final and decisive game of the series at the stadium today. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Because he lived in era that featured two other amazing center fielders, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays. The Duke often gets overlooked and under-appreciated. He was crazy good. He averaged 42 home runs, 124 RBI, 123 runs, and a .320 batting average between 1953-1956. I’m a Southern California guy. Never lived anywhere else, never want to live anywhere else. But recently, over a few drinks, I got to chatting with a few friends and the question came up, “If you could live in any era, in any city…when and where would you go?” I will save some of the crazy answers for another blog, but one that immediately came to my mind was New York City in the mid-1950′s. I wish I was 12 years old. To see Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, and Duke Snider all roam center field in one city… I can’t even imagine. Seriously, if you’re hanging out with an older guy… say, over the age of 65 and you don’t have anything to talk about… just pick one of them and say, “He was the best center fielder ever to play in New York.” No matter who you pick, you’ll inevitably piss him off, and get him arguing about it until he’s blue in the face. Fights were started and friendships lost over arguing the greatness of those three. What’s crazy is that I cannot find a picture of the three of them together during their playing days. How is that possible? Books were written about them. They were the things legends are made of. How are there no pictures of them together? There’s tons of the Duke and the Mick, tons of the Duke and Willie, tons of Willie and the Mick, none of all of them. Somebody please prove me wrong? I want to see it. Here’s one from an Old Timer’s game, along with Joe Dimaggio. Wow.

Duke Snider, Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle walk in from center field during an Old Timer's Day celebration on July 16, 1977.

And yet, there are 50 different renditions of these cheesy paintings featuring all three of them.I don’t mean to disrespect the Duke by only talking about him alongside of Mantle and Mays. In fact, my intention is exactly the opposite. By associating him with these two greats, my hope to bring attention to his greatness. An amazing player that will be missed by all of baseball, regardless of your fanhood.

The Duke was born a badass and by the looks of this picture, he died a badass too. Cheers, Duke.

-bp

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