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The Duke

Mar 1, 2011 3:12 PM | 1 comment

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... contemplating a tough loss -- the days of the Duke live on at the Brooklyn Collection.



3/3/2011 10:40:57 AM #

RIP Duke!
Great profile on a great player!