When people mention the Los Angeles Dodgers, many images come to mind. Some think about the rich pitching legacy that has marked this team for more than half a century. From the dominance of Koufax, Drysdale, and Newcombe in the ’50s and ’60s to the brillance of Don Sutton and Bob Welch in the ’70s, and the intensity of Fernando Valenzuela and Orel Hershiser in the ’80s, pitching has been the hallmark of this historic franchise.
To others, the Dodgers bring to mind the courage and determination of Jackie Robinson as he became the very first African-American to play in Major League Baseball and the cultural impact that it had. The team was known as the Brooklyn Dodgers then. New York City was home to three teams and Ebbetts Field was home to the boys in blue.
Lost among these, and perhaps other images that may come to mind as you ponder the rich tradition that is Dodgers baseball, is the man known simply as Duke. Simply put, Duke Snider is the greatest hitter that ever wore the famed “LA” on his cap. Sadly, the legend of Dodgers passed away yesterday.
Since his arrival mid-season in 1947, following a stint in the U.S. military during WW II, Snider was an offensive force for “Dem Bums”. This left-handed power slugger slammed 407 home runs, and knocked in 1333 runs before calling it a career in 1965. Snider still holds the franchise records in both categories.
Snider was a huge reason why the Dodgers played in six World Series, winning the Fall Classic twice. Perhaps the sweetest World Championship in team history came in 1955 against the bitter inter-city rival NY Yankees, putting an end to the title drought. Snider played a key role, hitting .320 with 4 homers and 7 RBI in the seven game series. Snider again led the team to the title in 1959 as they conquered the Chicago White Sox.
Before the team departed for the glitz and glamor of Hollywood, Snider was a part of one of the biggest debates in NYC sports history. While Snider roamed center field in Brooklyn, some guy named Mickey Mantle played the same position for the Yankees. Willie Mays roamed center for the team that wore black and orange. Debates raged as to which player was better. All three ended up in Cooperstown with Snider’s selection coming in 1980. His famous number 4 was also retired that year by the team, never to be worn again.
Perhaps the passing of this team legend will be a source of inspiration for the 2011 version of the team that was beloved by Snider. Perhaps the team from the City of Angels (not to be confused with that other team that claims Los Angeles as home) will find extra motivation and will seek to win one for the Duke. May you rest in peace Duke Snider. Thank you for the memories. Our prayers are with your family and friends.