To his mother, he was Ed. To everyone else, he was “The Duke of Flatbush” — revered by a borough of baseball fans and forever remembered in a song that romanticized a most golden era.
Duke Snider, the Hall of Fame center fielder for the charmed “Boys of Summer” who helped the Dodgers bring their elusive and only World Series crown to Brooklyn, died Sunday. He was 84.
Snider died at the Valle Vista Convalescent Hospital in Escondido, according to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, which announced the death on behalf of the family. Snider had been ill for months. His family said he died of natural causes.
Snider hit .295 with 407 career home runs, played in the World Series six times and won two titles. But the eight-time All-Star was defined by much more than his stats — he was, after all, part of the love affair between Brooklyn and “Dem Bums” who lived in the local neighborhoods.
Ebbets Field was filled with stars such as Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella and Gil Hodges during that 1955 championship season. Yet it is Snider’s name that refrains in “Talkin’ Baseball.”
“Willie, Mickey, and the Duke,” goes the popular ballpark song, which marks its 30th anniversary this year.Snider wore No. 4 in Dodger blue and was often regarded as the third-best center fielder in New York — behind Willie Mays of the Giants and Mickey Mantle of the Yankees.
“Duke was a fine man, a terrific hitter and a great friend, even though he was a Dodger,” Mays said in a statement. “It was great playing centerfield in New York in the 1950s, along with Mickey and Duke.”
To Snider it was a made up rivalry.
“The newspapers compared Willie, Mickey and I, and that was their thing,” Snider said several years ago. “As a team, we competed with the Giants, and we faced the Yankees in the World Series. So we had a rivalry as a team, that was it. It was an honor to be compared to them, they were both great players.”
Mantle died in 1995 at age 63. Mays, now 79, threw out a ceremonial ball last fall before a playoff game in San Francisco.
“Willie, Duke and Mickey. They were great players in one city, one town. Duke never got the credit of being the outfielder that Mays and Mantle were,” former teammate Don Zimmer said Sunday. “But Duke was a great outfielder. He was a great player.”
Commissioner Bud Selig called Snider an “integral part of Dodger history” and part of an “unparalleled triumvirate of center fielders” in New York.
Snider hit at least 40 homers in five straight seasons and led the National League in total bases three times. He never won an MVP award, although a voting error may have cost him the prize in 1955. He lost to Campanella by a very narrow margin — it later turned out an ill voter left Snider off the ballot, supposedly by mistake.
Snider is the Dodgers’ franchise leader in home runs (389) and RBI (1,271). He led all major leaguers in the 1950s with 326 homers and 1,031 RBI.
Snider hit .309 with 42 homers and a career-high 136 RBI in 1955. That October, he hit four homers, drove in seven runs and hit .320 as the Dodgers beat the Yankees in a seven-game Series.
For a team that kept preaching “Wait till next year” after World Series losses to the Yankees in 1953, ‘52, ‘49, ‘47 and ‘41, it was indeed next year. A generation later, long after they’d all grown old, those Dodgers were lauded as the “Boys of Summer” in Roger Kahn’s book.
“He was the true Dodger and represented the Dodgers to the highest degree of class, dignity and character,” Hall of Fame Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda said.
Snider was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1980.