Dodgers great Duke Snider dies at 84
PHOENIX - In the Los Angeles Dodgers' clubhouse Sunday afternoon, a rectangular bulletin board posted information on report times, lineups and workout schedules. Standard stuff for a baseball team in spring training.
But one sheet of paper was anything but standard. It read, simply, "Duke 4."
Edwin Donald "Duke" Snider, a Brooklyn Dodgers icon who contributed mightily to the "Golden Age" of New York baseball - while wearing uniform number 4 - died Sunday at the Valle Vista Convalescent Hospital in Escondido, Calif. He was 84.
"He was a winner," former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda said at Camelback Ranch after the Dodgers defeated the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in a Cactus League game. "It's a tremendous loss for our Dodgers and for his family, and I'm proud to say that I was a teammate and a friend of his."
Added longtime Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully, in a statement released by the team: "When he had a chance to run and move defensively, 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. Although it's ironic to say it, we have lost a giant."
In the early-to-mid 1950s, New York baseball fans were consumed by a debate for the ages: Who was the best centerfielder in town? Was it Willie Mays, who played for the rival Giants (hence Scully's "irony")? The Yankees' Mickey Mantle? Or Snider, also known as "The Duke of Flatbush"? Opinions will vary eternally, yet the three players - all members of the Baseball Hall of Fame - enhanced their fame by being part of "Willie, Mickey and the Duke."
Snider, the last of the trio to be inducted into the Hall, in 1980, put up statistics that were not the equal of his contemporaries, yet that didn't diminish his status among the Dodger faithful. He leads the Dodgers all-time in home runs (389) and runs batted in (1,271), and he hit four home runs in the 1955 World Series, when the Dodgers finally defeated the archrival Yankees to win their first championship. The 1955 team was immortalized in author Roger Kahn's book, "The Boys of Summer." Snider was the last surviving Brooklyn player to be on the field for the final out of that series.
He played for the Dodgers from 1947 through 1962; the team moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles after the 1957 season. He returned to New York to play with the nascent Mets in 1963, and he completed his career with the transplanted Giants in San Francisco in 1964. In all, he hit 407 homers, tying him for 46th all-time with current Yankees outfielder Andruw Jones.
"Duke was a fine man, a terrific hitter and a great friend, even though he was a Dodger," Mays said. "It was great playing centerfield in New York in the 1950s, along with Mickey and Duke. I have wonderful memories of that . . . Today, I feel that I have lost a dear friend.
After his retirement, Snider returned to the Dodgers organization, managing in the minor leagues from 1965 through 1967. He spent the 1972 season as a minor-league manager in the San Diego Padres organization, and he later worked for the Montreal Expos.
Snider spent his final years as a Dodgers dignitary, appearing at events, until an unspecified illness struck, according to Lasorda. The team didn't announce Snider's cause of death.
"There comes a time in everybody's life when you get in a position when they get very ill, you just pray that they go. You don't want them to suffer," Lasorda said. "That was the case with Duke."