Boys in the Hall: Duke Snider
Subway is collaborating with FOXSports.com on a “Boys in the Hall” photo and video series that features interviews with Hall of Fame legends and photo galleries of current players who are Cooperstown hopefuls. When they asked LBS to write a feature on Hall of Famer Duke Snider, we were thrilled. “The Duke of Flatbush” was the most consistent slugger on the Dodgers during the 1950s and helped lead them to six World Series appearances and two championships. Snider is often overlooked by fans because he never won an MVP, and because the team’s move to a new stadium in Los Angeles stunted his statistics. But he was impressive enough to earn election to the Hall of Fame in 1980.
Snider was born Edwin Donald Snider and was nicknamed “Duke” as a young boy. He grew up in Los Angeles and was an exceptional athlete, enjoying success in football and basketball in addition to baseball. He signed with the Dodgers out of high school in 1943 and played minor league ball until being called up briefly as a 20-year-old in 1947. He played a half-season in the bigs with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1948, and by 1949, he was a full-time major leaguer at age 22.
The Duke hit 23 home runs and drove in 92 runs in his first full season playing center field for the Dodgers. He tied Gil Hodges for the team lead in home runs, and he was a key contributor in a stacked offense that helped the team win the National League and reach the World Series. The Dodgers lost to the Yankees in the World Series that season, something that happened four times during Duke’s career.
Snider quickly became one of the most consistent sluggers during the ’50s. From 1950-1956, he led the league in slugging and OPS twice, total bases and runs scored three times, and home runs, RBIs, and hits once. He made the All-Star Game every year during that stretch — seven times in a row — and eight times during his career. He finished top 10 in MVP voting six of those seven years, including a second-place finish in 1955. Some detective work from Joe Posnanski last year revealed a voter’s mistake cost the Dodgers outfielder a share of the MVP award. Twice, including 1955, Snider came in behind teammate and three-time MVP Roy Campanella for the award, despite seemingly having stronger numbers.
Snider’s career numbers took a plunge after the Dodgers moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. The center fielder slugged at least 40 home runs for five straight seasons before the move, but he never managed more than 23 in a season after that despite being relatively young at 31. My dad points out to me something that many people don’t know: the Dodgers played at the LA Memorial Coliseum where left field was only 251 feet away, but right field was around 440 feet away because it ran the direction of the football field. The Coliseum was death to a power-hitting lefty like Snider, who could still swing the bat well. By comparison, Ebbets Field — the Dodgers’ original home in Brooklyn — was only 297 down the right field line.
In 1958, Snider hit six home runs with a .776 OPS at home while clubbing nine home runs with a .980 OPS on the road. He spent five seasons with the Dodgers in Los Angeles before playing a season each with the Mets and Giants to end his career. He retired after the 1964 season at the age of 37.
The Duke became an announcer for the Montreal Expos after his career ended, working with them from 1973-1986. He made some cameos on various TV shows. He owned an avocado ranch in Fallbrook, Ca., during retirement before dying last February at age 84.
For those who never saw him play, think of Snider as similar to Ken Griffey Jr. in that he was a good all-around player who became a power-hitting star at a young age. Snider could run, play defense, throw the ball a mile, and hit it even further. Another good comparison would be Jim Edmonds, who became a power hitter with the Cardinals. Snider’s statistical decline is similar to Brian Giles, who was a slugging stud four straight years with the Pirates, but never topped 23 home runs in a season after moving into the spacious Petco Park.