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The Yankees had Mickey Mantle, the Giants had Willie Mays, and dem Bums had the Duke. From 1947 to 1957 New York City experienced a golden age of baseball, and the play of these three centerfielders made for some of the headiest rivalries the sport has ever seen. For ten out of those eleven years, at least one New York team made the World Series, with the Yankees and Dodgers meeting six times. On each of those Dodgers teams, Duke Snider was as valuable as his cross-river counterparts, usually leading the club in base hits, runs, home runs, and RBIs.
On Sunday February 27th, this titan of Ebbets Field -- Edwin Donald "Duke" Snider -- died at the age of 84 in Escondido, California.
Though he didn't have his first full season with the Dodgers until 1949, Snider saw sporadic action with the club beginning in 1947. His first major-league appearance came on April 15th of that year, a game most people remember for the first-time appearance of another Dodger -- Jackie Robinson. But being overshadowed by the great number 42 didn't dampen the rookie's spirits, in fact he probably enjoyed watching Robinson take the field more than anyone else in the stadium.
In his autobiography published in 1988, The Duke of Flatbush, Snider recalls first seeing Robinson playing football, baseball, and competing in a track meet all on the same day: "I have another early memory of Jackie Robinson. I was in the eighth grade when he was playing football for Pasadena, the big rival of our own school, Compton Junior College. I was in the stands when he took a kickoff, reversed his field three times, and returned it for a touchdown. It was as dazzling a piece of broken-field running as you could ever hope to see, by the same guy I had seen play a baseball game and compete in a track meet on the same afternoon. No wonder he was my boyhood idol."
Snider is seated front row left; Robinson is standing, second row center.
In addition to playing with his boyhood idol, Snider was also able to walk to Ebbets Field for games and practices, something unheard of today. In The Duke of Flatbush, Snider recalls: "Times were simpler in 1947. I rented a room in the private home of Peg and Ben Chase on Bedford Avenue in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, two and a half blocks from Ebbets Field. I used to walk to and from the ball park with my roommate, our third-string catcher, Gil Hodges."
This kind of average-guy, folksiness was the hallmark of the era in which Snider played baseball. The New York Times ran a great article spotlighting this way of life the day after Snider died. And Snider himself, in his autobiography, took special care at the beginning of his book to mention eight of his Bay Ridge neighbors, all of whom he credits with being particularly important in his life and the life of his family.
Indeed, times certainly have changed, but we have a number of photos in our collection of the Duke which capture him in his own golden and bygone era.
Here he is, at 23 years old, reporting for the first day of spring training in 1950.
And here we see him clowning around with catcher Roy Campanella and pitcher Preacher Roe.
This photo appeared in the Eagle on September 19, 1953 with the caption: "The Aloha Kids -- New kind of teamwork is displayed as Dodger band provides music for curve-throwing dancer Loma Duke at last night's victory celebration at Hotel Lexington. Musicians, left to right, are Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese, Carl Erskine and Carl Furillo."
Curve-throwing dancers aside, the Duke was also a family man, as the many photos in our collection -- recently highlighted by Ivy -- can attest. Here Snider poses with his wife, high school sweetheart Beverly Null, and their daughter Pam.
From horsing around in the locker room...
...to contemplating a tough loss -- the days of the Duke live on at the Brooklyn Collection.
Here at the Brooklyn Collection, we have a large collection of photographs of Brooklyn's much-missed local baseball team, the Dodgers. These are mostly images snapped by Brooklyn Daily Eagle photographers, depicting the players on the field, at training camps, and in locker rooms -- their faces flushed and euphoric with victory, or grim with defeat. Though these images are fascinating -- especially for a Brooklyn transplant like me, who never knew the borough's glory days of hometeam baseball -- I've become more engrossed by the photographs of the players' lives off the baseball diamond.
From the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, September 23, 1952: "Dodger players had their hands full yesterday with no game scheduled at Ebbets Field." Left to right: Rube Walker and daughter Deborah, Clyde King and daughter Princy, and Ralph Branca with daughter Patty.
Judging by the abundance of these images in our files, it became a routine matter for Eagle photographers in the 1950s to visit the most popular players at their Brooklyn homes, documenting their everyday lives in their surprisingly modest living rooms and backyards. Some of the photographs were never even published in the paper, but luckily they've survived the past sixty-odd years to give us a glimpse into the private lives of baseball legends like Pee-Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson. The images are a testimony to the fullness of these men's characters, as these heroes on the field were, simultaneously, fathers in the home. And the photographs are full of adorable Dodger babies! Let the gawking begin!
Bobby Morgan, Jr., son of infielder Bobby Morgan, at 6 months old.
Our first stop is the Hodges home, where man-of-the-house (and, incidentally, Dodger first baseman) Gil assists in changing his son, Gil Jr.'s, diaper. Hodges says it's more difficult than making a "first-to-second-to-first double play."
Indeed, little Gillie Hodges proves to be the real star of the show, as he later demonstrates his burgeoning baseball abilities. He's profiled in a May 2, 1952 article as, "a husky little fellow, and described by other players as the only two-year-old with muscles."
Here's Gillie flexing those famous pipes, winding up for a pitch:
And finally, sliding home:
A telling discrepancy that emerges as one looks through these images is that despite being "intimate" portrayals of the players at home, the photographs are often obviously staged. This becomes most apparent in the photos of players' sons, who are almost always made to mug for the camera in stances mimicking their fathers' profession. Bewildered expressions abound here -- what do three-year-olds know about baseball?
Carl Furillo Jr., 3 years old, son of right-fielder Carl Furillo.
Kevin Snider, 2 1/2 years old, son of center-fielder Duke Snider.
Dan Erskine, 3 1/2 years old, son of pitcher Carl Erskine.
The folder of photos depicting Jackie Robinson's home life inadvertently provides a kind of meta-commentary on this artificiality of the Dodger family photographs. First we get a heart-warming look at Robinson's interactions with his children...
Jackie Robinson with wife Rachel and five-month-old son, Jack Jr., in 1947.
Jackie cleaning Jackie Jr.'s ears in 1949.
...followed by this image of a "candid" photoshoot in Jackie Robinson's home. Note the wary look his son gives the camera.
Not all of the photos are so obviously posed. One of my favorites is this shot of Dodger pitcher Don Newcombe -- who, in 1949, became the first black pitcher to start a World Series game. The child guzzling his soda pop is identified as "Normie", although it's unclear if he's Newcombe's son or some other relative.
The real prize of the Dodger family photo files, though, relates to catcher Roy Campanella. In the weeks leading up to the 1953 World Series, in which the Dodgers would battle their rivals from across the river, the Yankees, the Eagle asked Campanella's 10-year-old son David to describe "how it feels to be the son of a hero." Young David wrote a brief essay in response, which was printed in the Eagle on September 30, 1953, along with this photo.
I was amazed to discover that we have David's actual essay, the piece of paper he's pictured with here, written on the same flimsy brown writing paper with light blue lines that is still ubiquitous in grammar schools.
While David's penmanship is laudable, here's a transcription of his essay, just in case.
"How I feel to be the son of a baseball hero.
I don't feel any different from anybody else. I go to the Queens School and I'm the 5th grade. I have a lot of friends there. I do my studies after school. I like to play punchball and basketball with my friends. Sometimes, I watch the ballgames to see Daddy play. When Daddy comes home we talk about the game. I don't like it when the other players get angry because daddy gets so many hits. One thing I do like is that little Jackie Robinson and I always know a lot about the baseball games. I like it when daddy gets a home run. I always mark it on the calendar. I'm proud of him."
At the end of April and the beginning of May, Arthur Lonto repeated rituals taking place all over Brooklyn--he planted his garden, and he enjoyed the beginning of the baseball season with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was never idle. Here are a few more extracts from the busy realtor's journal.
"Wednesday, April 30, 1947 Dodgers lose 1st game at Ebbets Field to Chicago. Jerome & I took Jitterbug lesson at 6 p.m.--Miss Young.
Thursday, May 1, 1947 New family moves into 1431 E. 7th St from Park Slope. Called Rickerman, man, wife and young daughter
Saturday, May 3, 1947 Father & I drove to Sears & Roebuck & bought 5 rosebushes. I planted them in afternoon. 2 pink, 1 red, 1 yellow, 1 red-yellow...Driving to Sears we saw the yellow new leaves on the trees.
Tuesday, May 6, 1947 Bklyn-7, St. Louis-6. Painted rose arch in yard. Wednesday May 7, 1947 I GOT MY BROKERS LICENSE IN MAIL
Thursday, May 8, 1947 Record COLD for the day. Evening: Went down to Day's house & helped Joey Day shellack his new work bench and listened to St. Louis shellack B'klyn. 8:30 p.m. night game St. Louis-5 Bklyn-1 1st series that the last place Cards won this year against their Bklyn "cousins" the 1st place Dodgers.
Monday, May 12, 1947 Planted grass seed in front. Dodgers beat Boston 8-3. 5-ALARM FIRE IN CONEY ISLAND. Jerome is one of first firemen on hand
Tuesday, May 13, 1947 AM took BMT #5 to CONEY ISLAND saw FIRE damage. Mother and I met new neighbors the Rickermans. Evening worked in garden. Night game Cincinnati-7 Brooklyn-5
Wednesday, May 14, 1947 RAIN 10 AM Dance lesson w/Miss Carroll. Cincinnati-2 Bklyn-0. Uncle came. Drove him to Brighton Station Bought drills at McVeigh's bought turpentine, paint remover, fertilizer at Gluck's."
So passed a peaceful two weeks for Mr Lonto. The May 12 fire at Coney Island, according to an online history of Engine 245, "started in rubbish behind 1228 Surf Avenue. This fire burnt through a dozen or so building[s] between Surf Avenue to Bowery Street, and Henderson Walk to W. 12th Street....The fire...injured forty five people, mostly firemen."
We have recently acquired one volume of the diary of Arthur Lonto, a noted authority on transit and a former President of the Electric Railroaders Association. A World War II veteran, Mr Lonto worked in insurance and real estate until he was hired by the MTA, eventually becoming a transit management analyst.
At the time the diary was written, Mr Lonto lived on East 7th Street between Avenues M and N. He notes indefatigably and compulsively every journey taken by public transportation, but more importantly, he abstracts news items of interest and follows the fortunes of the Brooklyn Dodgers with a fan's enthusiasm. He also jots down the hit parade, and makes a note every time he goes to mass or confession. In spite of the spare nature of the entries, the diary is a fascinating document, a memorandum of a year in a life lived quietly in a frame house in a Brooklyn suburb.
From time to time we will note daily entries of interest here.
His entry for April 11th reminds us not only that the regular baseball season didn't open until April 15th back in 1947, but that Jackie Robinson was about to start his storied career. The capital letters would indicate that Mr Lonto realized the importance of the event, but then--POLISHED OUR CAR & SIMONIZED IT gets the same treatment--so maybe not.
"Jackie Robinson plays first base for Dodgers IN EXIBITION GAME AGAINST YANKEES BKLYN WON 14-6 FIRST NEGRO TO PLAY ON A MAJOR LEAGUE TEAM." That's big all right.
Here is Jackie in August of 1947 with new Dodger pitcher Dan Bankhead.
This is my gift to you, Brooklyn Dodger fans.
My Valentines Day weekend was quite romantic, so readers will have to forgive me if these Valentine's poems are a little late. I found them competely by accident, while I was looking for some photos of Gil Hodges in military uniform.
They were written by the somewhat eccentric, so-called "Dentist Laureate" of Borough Hall, who was also dentist and poet to the Brooklyn Dodgers, Dr. John L. McAteer. Dr. McAteer wrote quite a few sports poems. I cannot find out much about him other than an article about his pet praying mantis and his obituary in the New York Times, which shows that he really was the dentist to the Dodgers (I was quite skeptical).
Artie Gore and Gil Hodges, the subjects of the poems, faced off in game 3 of the Yankees/Dodgers World Series in 1953. Hodges was called out by the Umpire, Artie Gore, at third base. This was a much debated call, and you can read about it here. And now, the poems:
Hodges to Gore
A shaft has gored this trusting heart
Hurled by some misguided Art
(And I might mention furthermore,
The wound reveals an Artie Gore).
Explain that FOWL impulse I beg
That prompted you to lay an egg
And leave us hanging on the ropes.
Our hearts bowed down with shattered hopes.
The play was close, but there’s no doubt
You bonered when you called me out.
If you had only stayed awake
It might have proved the crucial break.
But, Artie dear, I love you still
With deep affection – Always, Gil.
Gore to Hodges
Boy of my dreams, you seem to forget
That Dressen was trying out Russian Roulette
And gambled a bunt might move you to third
(A strategy worthy of Mortimer Snerd).
But, dear heart, I lingered alone at that bag
Wearily watching the long moments drag
Trying to figure as time trickled by
Where you were hiding and wondering why.
The fact is distressing-too awful to keep-
‘Cause waiting for you I fell fast asleep.
Perhaps my decision prevented a score
But, sweetheart, forgive me –
Your own Artie Gore.