Duke Snider Biography
His name immortalized by the phrase Willie, Mickey, and the Duke from the song Baseball, Dodger centerfielder Duke Snider was Brooklyn’s entry into one of the most passionate debates in baseball history. New York sportswriter Red Smith once wrote, “(Duke) Snider, (Mickey) Mantle, and (Willie) Mays. You could get a fat lip in any saloon by starting an argument as to which was the best.”
Sharing the big city spotlight with fellow future Hall of Fame centerfielders Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle, Snider was part of a magical period in New York baseball that saw a team from the nation’s largest city win the World Series in nine out of the 10 seasons between 1949 and 1958. The Dodgers appeared in the Fall Classic five times during that time, winning their only championship in Brooklyn in 1955. Although the Dodger lineup also featured other outstanding performers such as Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, and Gil Hodges throughout much of the period, no one on the team wielded a more potent bat than Snider. And, even though the Brooklyn centerfielder usually came out third best in comparisons to Mays and Mantle, Snider hit more home runs during the 1950s (326) than any other player in baseball.
Born on September 19, 1926 in Los Angeles, California, Edwin Donald Snider was an exceptional all-around athlete who excelled in both baseball and football at Compton High School in Southern California. After being spotted by one of Brooklyn Dodger executive Branch Rickey’s scouts, Snider signed an amateur free-agent contract with the Dodgers shortly after he graduated from high school in 1943. The young outfielder split the 1944 campaign between two Dodger farm teams, before spending all of 1945 in the United States Navy. Snider returned to the minors in 1946 and, after performing exceptionally well in each of the next two seasons, made brief appearances in Brooklyn in both 1947 and 1948.
Snider became the Dodgers’ regular centerfielder in 1949, hitting 23 home runs, driving in 92 runs, scoring 100 others, and batting .292 to help lead Brooklyn to the National League pennant. The Dodgers fell just short of capturing their second straight league championship the following year, but Snider earned the first of his seven consecutive selections to the All-Star Team. In addition to leading the league with 199 hits and 343 total bases, Duke placed among the leaders with 31 home runs, 107 runs batted in, 109 runs scored, and a .321 batting average.
Snider posted solid overall numbers again in 1951, but his batting average fell almost 50 points, to .277, and the Dodgers squandered a seemingly insurmountable 13-game lead to the Giants during the season’s final two months, eventually losing the pennant to their arch-rivals on Bobby Thomson’s famous Shot Heard ‘Round the World. Snider subsequently received much of the blame for his team’s failures in the New York newspapers, prompting the disgruntled outfielder to request a trade.
Snider later recalled, “I went to Walter O’Malley and told him I couldn’t take the pressure. I told him I’d just as soon be traded. I told him I figured I could do the Dodgers no good.”
The Dodger owner convinced Snider to remain in Brooklyn, and, after compiling good numbers again in 1952, the Dodger centerfielder established himself as one of the game’s elite players, stringing together the four most productive seasons of his career. Snider helped lead the Dodgers to their second straight pennant in 1953 by placing among the league leaders with 42 home runs, 126 runs batted in, and a .336 batting average, and topping the circuit with 132 runs scored and a .627 slugging percentage. He finished third in the league MVP balloting. Although Brooklyn failed to repeat as National League champions in 1954, Snider had another great year, hitting 40 homers, knocking in 130 runs, batting .341, and leading the league with 120 runs scored. The Dodgers won the pennant in each of the next two seasons, with Snider being their most potent offensive weapon. He hit 42 homers, batted .309, led the league with 136 runs batted in and 126 runs scored, and finished a close second in the MVP voting in 1955. The Duke of Flatbush then led the Dodgers to their only world championship in Brooklyn, hitting four home runs, knocking in seven runs, and batting .320 against the Yankees in the World Series. Snider previously homered four times against New York in the 1952 Fall Classic, thereby putting himself in the record books as the only player in history to accomplish the feat twice. Snider also had an exceptional year in 1956, driving in 101 runs, scoring 112 others, batting .292, and leading the league with 43 home runs, a .399 on-base percentage, and a .598 slugging percentage. Although Snider’s other numbers were not as impressive, he topped the 40-homer mark for the fifth consecutive time in 1957.
There is little doubt that the figures Snider compiled during his time in Brooklyn were aided immeasurably by the ballpark in which he played his home games. A noted bandbox, Ebbets Field was perfectly suited for Snider’s lefthanded power stroke. The slugger hit many balls over the short rightfield fence that might have been caught in other ballparks. Snider also benefited from batting third in Brooklyn’s predominantly righthanded hitting lineup. Surrounded by players such as Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Gil Hodges, Carl Furillo, and Pee Wee Reese, each of whom swung from the other side of the plate, Snider rarely faced southpaw pitching, against which he struggled for much of his career. Nevertheless, Snider’s contributions to the dominant Dodger teams of the period cannot be overstated. More than just a home run hitter, he was a five-tool player who also possessed good speed and an outstanding throwing arm in the outfield. In discussing Snider’s fielding, Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner once noted, “I’d say Duke covers more ground, wastes less motion, and is more consistent than anyone since DiMaggio.” And Stan Musial named Snider, Willie Mays, and Hank Aaron as his all-time National League outfield.
The 1957 campaign was Snider’s last big year. The Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in 1958, and the combination of the Los Angeles Coliseum’s distant rightfield fence and injuries to the 32-year-old outfielder ended Snider’s days as a dominant home run hitter. He became a part-time player in his five remaining years with the Dodgers, never again hitting more than 23 home runs or driving in more than 88 runs in a season. Snider posted those numbers during the team’s 1959 championship campaign, giving him a resume that included appearances with six pennant-winning and two world championship teams. He returned to New York in 1963 to play for the Mets, then spent his final season back in California with the Giants. Snider retired at the end of 1964 with 407 career home runs, 1,333 runs batted in, 1,259 runs scored, and a .295 batting average. He led the National League in home runs, runs batted in, hits, walks, and on-base percentage once each, he finished first in slugging percentage twice, and he topped the circuit in runs scored and total bases three times each. In addition to topping 40 homers on five separate occasions, Snider surpassed 100 runs batted in and 100 runs scored six times each and batted over .300 seven times. He was selected to play in eight All-Star games. Snider finished in the top five in the league MVP voting three times, making it into the top ten on another three occasions. His 11 home runs and 26 RBIs in World Series play are both records for a National Leaguer.
After his playing career ended, Snider scouted for both the Dodgers and the Padres, and also briefly managed in the minor leagues before becoming an announcer for the Montreal Expos from 1973 to 1986. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the members of the BBWAA in 1980.