I’m not one to memorialize the dead usually, although some are significant in history and my life. And it may seem strange to choose a former baseball player when I do decide to do so. But Duke Snider was one of my all time baseball heroes as a kid. This was back in the era of 3 major league teams in New York and rivalries that simply were unmatched. I caught the fever early and young, and Duke Snider was one of those I most admired:
Duke Snider, the Hall of Fame center fielder renowned for his home run drives and superb defensive play in the Brooklyn Dodgers’ glory years, died Sunday in Escondido, Calif. He was 84.
From 1949, his first full season, until 1957, the period generally considered the golden age of New York baseball — the last time the city’s fans were divided into three camps, and when at least one New York team played in the World Series each October — Snider was a colossus, one of three roaming the center fields of New York.
The others, of course, were Willie Mays of the New York Giants and Mickey Mantle of the Yankees, and the three became symbols of their teams, as the city’s fans argued over who was best: Willie, Mickey or the Duke?
History has since settled Snider in third place, but at the time, he had a good case to make. The Dodgers, known fondly as Dem Bums and immortalized by the writer Roger Kahn as “The Boys of Summer,” won six National League pennants during Snider’s 11 seasons in Brooklyn.
It was the era of Mays, Mantle and Snider and history may have put Snider in 3rd place, but not to an impressionable young kid he helped fall in love with the game of baseball.
Rest in Peace, Duke.