To his mother, he was Ed. To everyone else, he was “The Duke of Flatbush” – revered by a borough of baseball fans and forever remembered in a song that romanticized a most golden era.
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., according to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, which announced the death on behalf of the family. Snider had been ill for months. His family said he died of natural causes.
Snider 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 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 “Talkin’ Baseball.”
“Willie, Mickey, and the Duke,” goes the popular ballpark song, which marks its 30th anniversary this year.
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.
“Willie, Duke and Mickey. They were great players in one city, one town. Duke never got the credit of being the outfielder that Mays and Mantle were,” former teammate Don Zimmer said Sunday. “But Duke was a great outfielder. He was a great player.”
Snider hit at least 40 homers in five straight seasons and led the N.L. 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.
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.
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 stayed with the Dodgers when they moved to Los Angeles in 1958 and won another World Series ring the next year. Prematurely gray, “The Silver Fox” returned to New York with the bumbling Mets in 1963 and finished his career in 1964 with the Giants, where he and Mays were teammates.
Snider was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1980 on his 11th try. He was a broadcaster for the Montreal Expos for several seasons – he played in the city as a minor leaguer in the Brooklyn farm system – and later was an announcer with the Dodgers.
“He had the grace and the abilities of DiMaggio and Mays and, of course, he was a World Series hero that will forever be remembered in the borough of Brooklyn,” Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully said. “Although it’s ironic to say it, we have lost a giant.”