Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Duke

Been away from the blog for a while. First I did some traveling last fall, to Thailand and Laos (anyone curious about my adventures there please check out my travel blog, hochiminhsusedcars.blogspot.com). Then there was the busy EFF Holiday season, then there was the Seattle January doldrums...you get the picture. I admire those bloggers who have something erudite to say on a weekly (let alone daily) basis. All I can promise is that I will try to post a bit more regularly than I have lately.

We lost the Duke this week. Edwin "Duke" Snider was the last living player who was on the field for the last out of the Dodgers' historic (and only) World Championship, in 1955, and hit the final home run at Ebbets Field. He also was an EFF customer, a fact that we were greatly honored by. Through the years he would occasionally call to order items from us, and we had the privilege of outfitting him and fellow Bums Johnny Podres and Don Zimmer for a Turn Back The Clock game in St. Petersburg, FL. Duke was always gracious when we spoke to him, and I regret I never got the chance to meet him personally.

Before joining the Dodgers, Snider played on all three top Brooklyn affiliates, getting in a couple of at-bats for Montreal in 1944 before joining the Navy. After being discharged from the service, he sported his famous #4 for the great Ft. Worth Cats team of 1946 in the Texas League. Snider's performance with St. Paul in 1947 earned him a shot with Brooklyn, but Mr. Rickey thought he needed more seasoning, and he started the 1948 season back in Montreal. He was called up to stay in mid-season, and of course went on to be one of the iconic "Boys Of Summer". Those were the days when ballplayers lived in the neighborhood, not in gated communities, and Snider lived in a rented house on Marine Avenue in Bay Ridge. He would often car pool to games at Ebbets Field or the Polo Grounds with teammates Pee Wee Reese and Carl Erskine, who also lived in the neighborhood.

Snider took the Dodgers famous slide from their 13-game lead over the Giants in 1951 especially hard. His average dropped to .277, and the pressure on him was so great that he asked Walter O'Malley to be traded, reasoning he wasn't doing the Dodgers any good. Fortunately O'Malley did not heed his request, and the Silver Fox became, with Mays and Mantle, one of the three famous New York center fielders during that city's baseball Golden Age, hitting 40 or more home runs for five straight seasons from 1953-1957.

The Dodgers' move to Los Angeles was a cruel blow to the Duke's power, as he now faced the cavernous dimensions of the L.A. Coliseum. Nagging injuries also slowed him down. In 1963, he found himself part of Casey Stengel's hapless expansion Mets. When Charlie Neal refused to surrender #4, Snider wore #11 for the Amazins. While seeing Snider stride the grasses of the Polo Grounds no doubt brought tears of joy to nostalgic New York fans, it was no fun for Snider to be on such a laughable ballclub, and he was traded to the Giants for the 1964 season, his last.

Odd to see the Duke in a Giants uniform.

After doing some managing in the minors (with Spokane in 1965, Alexandria in 1972) Snider turned to broadcasting, and had a lengthy career in the booth with the Montreal Expos.

About the jersey: The Ft. Worth Cats jersey is interesting because although the trim pattern is nearly identical to the same period parent Brooklyn road, the color scheme is navy instead of royal. Also, unlike most major league players who became identified with a jersey number only after making the majors, Snider was already wearing his famous #4 in the minors with Ft. Worth.