‘Duke of Flatbush’ was elegant man with powerful game
FOX Sports presents “The Boys in the Hall,” a series featuring interviews with legendary members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Check your local listings on April 1 for showings of “The Boys In The Hall” featuring the Dodgers’ Duke Snider.
The Duke Snider I knew was an Edwin-type Snider, an elegant man with perfectly coiffed silver hair and impeccable dress that made him look like a bank president. And his soft-spoken gentlemanly demeanor fit more in a church pulpit than on a baseball field.
He was a broadcaster for the Montreal Expos when I knew him, and he was an awe-inspiring figure to a young baseball writer who grew up when the Duke Sniders of the world were god-like figures, shadows on a black-and-white 12-inch Zenith television screen and grainy photographs in the sports section.
Snider never gave the impression he was an icon and a legend to baseball fans of his era. He maneuvered around the press box and broadcast booth with no pomp and no circumstance and always had a polite, “Hi, how are you?” when he saw me, although he only knew I was some young baseball writer covering the Cincinnati Reds.
He played in the era of New York center fielders — Mickey Mantle of the New York Yankees, Willie Mays of the New York Giants and Snider with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
They were all superstars, and in New York, it depended upon which team you rooted for as to whom you thought was the best center fielder.
Mantle and Mays had more flash and star power, but most baseball aficionados will tell you Snider was as good as both and Brooklyn fans say, “Yo, dose udder two guys were good, but nobody was better’n da Duke.”
His father nicknamed him ‘Duke’ when he was five and growing up in Compton, Calif., as Edwin.
His royalty was never in question in Brooklyn, where he was known as The Duke of Flatbush, wearing uniform No. 4 and displaying a powerful arm as well as a potent bat.
It was reported that as a high school quarterback he could throw the football 70 yards. In the air. Many National League runners discovered the power and accuracy of that arm and few dared run on him.
Over his 18-year major-league career, he batted .295 with 407 home runs and 1,333 RBI. But for a five-year period from 1953-57 he was a human batting machine, turned on ‘high.’ For those five seasons he averaged 42 homers, 124 RBI and 123 runs scored, in addition to batting .320.
His last year with the Dodgers was in Los Angeles in 1962, when they played in the new Dodger Stadium.
The Dodgers and San Francisco Giants tied for the pennant that season, forcing a three-game playoff. It was tied at a game apiece when the Dodgers took a 4-2 lead into the ninth inning of the deciding game.
Starting pitcher Ed Roebuck was tiring, and manager Walt Alston wanted to make a change. Snider and coach Leo Durocher wanted Alston to bring in Don Drysdale, a starting pitcher and one of the best. They begged, pleaded and cajoled.
But Alston brought in Stan Williams. The Giants scored four runs, won the game, 6-4, and were off to the World Series while Snider and the Dodgers went home.
Snider, an eight-time All-Star, remains the only player in history to have four or more home runs in two separate World Series.
And there was controversy around Snider and his teammate, catcher Roy Campanella in 1955.
Campanella and Snider finished 1-2 in the balloting done by the baseball writers, with Campanella winning 226-221.
On their MVP ballots, BBWA members are asked to vote for 10, and the votes are weighted 14-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1.
After the ballots were counted and the results announced, it was discovered a hospitalized writer in Philadelphia had marked Campanella first and sixth and Snider wasn’t on the ballot.
The ballot should have been cast aside, disqualified. Instead, they gave Campanella the first place vote and ignored the sixth place vote, moving all the votes behind the sixth spot up a notch.
If that writer had meant to put Snider first, he would have won. If he meant to put Snider sixth, he and Campanella would have tied.
For some strange reason never explained, the writer was not contacted to see how he meant his ballot to read.
Snider, though, never mentioned the incident — unless he was asked and then he just smiled and said, “Campy deserved it that year.”
And that’s royalty talking.