Duke Snider, mighty Brooklyn Dodgers home-run hitter, dies at 84

In this Sept. 16, 1950, photo, fans look on as Brooklyn Dodgers center fielder Duke Snider gets a kiss from Kathy Cariani at Ebbets Field in the Brooklyn borough of New York, as the Dodgers met the St. Louis Cardinals in a baseball game. Snider holds a cake foir his 24th birthday.
In this Sept. 16, 1950, photo, fans look on as Brooklyn Dodgers center fielder Duke Snider gets a kiss from Kathy Cariani at Ebbets Field in the Brooklyn borough of New York, as the Dodgers met the St. Louis Cardinals in a baseball game. Snider holds a cake foir his 24th birthday. (AP)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 28, 2011; 11:51 PM

Duke Snider, 84, a prolific home-run hitter with the Brooklyn Dodgers who earned a plaque in the Baseball Hall of Fame and was part of a famed triumverate of New York center fielders in the 1950s, died Feb. 27 at a hospital in Escondido, Calif. No cause of death was reported.

Mr. Snider played 18 seasons in the major leagues before retiring in 1964 with a career total of 407 home runs and a lifetime batting average of .295. His 389 home runs as a Dodger stand as a team record.

Before the franchise moved to Los Angeles in 1958, Mr. Snider spent 11 years with the Dodgers in Brooklyn, where he earned the nickname "the Duke of Flatbush" after a local neighborhood.

With the Dodgers, he won six National League pennants and is the only player in history to hit four home runs in two separate World Series, in 1952 and 1955. In the latter, he helped Brooklyn win its only world championship.

Depending upon which New Yorker you asked, and from what borough the fan hailed, Mr. Snider was the answer to one of the most contentious baseball debates of the postwar era: Willie, Mickey or the Duke?

Mr. Snider of the Dodgers, Mickey Mantle of the Yankees and Willie Mays of the Giants became legends as center fielders, and all three were later elected to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Although Mr. Snider is generally ranked third behind Mays and Mantle, he was the only player among them to hit 40 or more home runs in five consecutive seasons.

Mr. Snider made his first major league start in 1947, but his debut at Ebbets Field produced little fanfare - it was the same week that his teammate Jackie Robinson broke the major-league color barrier.

By the peak of Mr. Snider's career, he and Robinson would become the top-paid players on the Dodgers' roster, earning more than $40,000 a year in the 1950s.

Roger Kahn, who wrote "The Boys of Summer," the best-selling book about the Dodgers team that included Mr. Snider, Robinson, Pee Wee Reese and Gil Hodges, said in an interview that Mr. Snider's skill as a batter was honed by Branch Rickey, Brooklyn's general manager.

"When Branch Rickey first saw Duke he said, 'This young man has steel springs for legs but he hasn't the vaguest idea for the strike zone,'" Kahn said.

To train Mr. Snider's eye, Rickey had the left-handed batter stand at home plate calling balls and strikes.


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