(Long Island, N.Y.) New York’s ‘Golden Era’ of baseball was accentuated with the centerfielders of each of New York’s three teams, a trio made famous in a catchy song many years later. Willie, Mickey and The Duke are all Hall of Famers and need no introduction to anyone, especially around this part of the country. All made a great impact with their teams and on the game itself, so losing another one is a difficult subtraction, indeed.
Edwin Donald “Duke” Snider passed away on Sunday at the age of 84 and his life may have been summed up best in one sentence by Tommy Lasorda.
“He was born a Dodger and he died a Dodger,” the former Los Angeles manager said on WFAN radio. Lasorda was also a teammate of Snider’s and was very close with him for decades.
Known affectionately as ‘The Duke of Flatbush,’ Snider began his major league career in 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers; the same season that Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. Snider really hit his stride in the 1950s, when he hit 40 or more home runs in five consecutive seasons (1953-57). Snider also was the first player to hit four homers in two different World Series, 1952 and 1955, with the latter being the only championship won in Brooklyn.
“Duke was a fine man, a terrific hitter and a great friend, even though he was a Dodger,” said Mays, the last living member of that famous trio. “It was great playing centerfield in New York in the 1950s, along with Mickey (Mantle) and Duke. I have wonderful memories of that. Duke and I played on some All-Star teams together and even on the same Giants team the last year he played (1964).
“Today, I feel that I have lost a dear friend,” concluded Mays. “He was a hero to the fans in Brooklyn and a great Dodger.”
That last part is an understatement. Snider is still and always will be considered royalty in the Borough of Churches. On a team that was full of likeable players, Snider’s smile always seemed to shine the brightest.
“Everyone loved The Duke,” said Jimmy, 81, a lifelong Brooklyn resident who grew up a stone’s throw from Ebbett’s Field. “He was so special to the fans and we’ll all miss him greatly.”
Snider moved to Los Angeles with the rest of the Dodgers in 1958 after team owner Walter O’Malley did the unthinkable yet obvious. He played five seasons on the west coast before having his contract sold to the Mets, then in their second year of existence.
A little slower and grayer, The Duke returned to the Big Apple and needed to learn to call the Polo Grounds – and its expansive outfield – home. The New York Giants’ former ballpark was never a favorite of Snyder’s and still wasn’t, even with the fans now cheering for him.
A year later, Snyder returned to California when the San Francisco Giants purchased his contract. Not exactly the way he wanted to finish his career, playing for his long-time rival, but nothing could take away from what Snyder had already accomplished.
With his induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1980, Snyder cemented his legacy. That is one thing that will never change – on the east coast or west.