'59 Week: Day 1 - Duke Snider
On my quest to complete the whole 1959 Topps set, this Christmas I became 3 cards closer. Here are the stories of those players:
Card #20 of 572
4th Green Background Card
2nd Dodgers Player (after Joe Pignatano)
3rd Hall of Famer (after Ford Frick & Mickey Mantle)
Getting to 1959:
Duke Snider was born in 1926 in Los Angeles, Edwin Snider (who was given the nickname "Duke" at 5 years old) was a natural athlete. A multi-sport athlete, Snider was a member of the Compton High School baseball, basketball, and football teams, notably being the quarterback. During this time, Snider was scouted by the then-Brooklyn Dodgers, was invited and impressed the team during a September try-out in 1943, and was signed to a professional baseball by Branch Ricky once he finished high school in 1944. He would quickly begin his professional career that same season, between the Montreal Royals (2 games) and Newport News Dodgers (131 games) in the minor leagues. However, his baseball career would temporarily go on pause after this first professional season.
During the years of 1945 and 1946, Duke Snider served as a member of the United States Navy. During this time, he was stationed in Guam and served aboard the USS Sperry. He was never involved in any combat, but did come close one night in early 1945 when a ship came into radar without identifying itself. The bridge started to load the ship to fire- of which Snider would've been the first to shoot- but moments before the signal was called, the ship identified themselves as friendly. In 1946, Snider was stationed at the Long Beach Army Base, during his time playing ball with his fellow soldiers, he did have an offer to play professionally with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He declined, however, honoring his commitment to the Dodgers.
For the later half of the 1946 season, Snider would pick-up his professional career with the Fort Worth Cats, which earned him a spring training invite and he was called-up to the major leagues to start the season. He would spend the beginning of the year in the Major Leagues before moving down to Triple-A with the St. Paul Saints for the majority of the season before being called up again before the 1947 World Series. In an opposite season, Snider would start 1948 in Montreal and earn a call-up to the major leagues about halfway through the season. In 1949, Snider would became a regular major leaguer and stick around through the 1950's and into the 1960's. (But that's getting ahead of ourselves a little bit now.)
As a 22-year-old during that 1949 season, Snider was a solid piece in helping get the Brooklyn Dodgers to the World Series with his 23 home runs and 92 RBI's. This ability to hit for power would be the highlight of Snider's career going forward. From 1950 through 1957, Snider would average hitting over 35 home runs (including hitting 40+ for 5 straight years from '53-'57) and 110 RBI's a season while making the All-Star team in 7 straight years ('50-'56), and finishing Top-10 in the MVP in 6 (and Top-5 in 3) of those 8 years. It was towards the end of this incredible stretch that Snider would win his first World Series with the Dodgers in 1955 while also leading the National League in RBI's. And, in the penultimate year of this stretch, Snider whacked a career-high 43 home runs to lead the National League in 1956. Following the 1957 season, the Brooklyn Dodgers would pack their bags and move across the country to Los Angeles. That 1958 season- coupled with getting to his 30's, lingering knee problems, and moving into a much bigger outfield- that Snider would see his numbers start to dip.
From 1959 On:
Maybe it was something in the California air that took getting used to. Maybe it's because he was featured on the best Topps set ever produced. Maybe it was just luck, but Duke Snider had a comeback season in 1959 while leading the Los Angeles Dodgers to their first World Series while under a new name, while hitting 23 home runs and 88 RBI's. It was also during this season that Snider started to share his daily outfield role with other players on the team.
Following his final great season, Snider would spend the 1960 through 1962 seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers while adopting into a part-time role. However, after that 1962 season, Snider would return back to the east coast with the New York Mets (in their 2nd year).
During his year-long tenure with the Mets, Snider would spend a lot more time in the field but see a big drop in his production. He would also run into a problem as his number (4) was being worn- and not being given up- by a former Dodger teammate of many years, Charlie Neal. However, Snider would get his number back after Neal- who was traded to the Mets the year before Snider was- was traded to the Cincinnati Reds. It was during his time with the Mets in 1962 that Snider would record his 2,000th career hit, his 400th career home run, become an All-Star for the final time in his career, and was a fan favorite as a former Brooklyn Dodger who "returned home". It was this success (after a few years of falling stat-lines) that propelled Snider into one more season of baseball, asking to be traded to a contender, and heading back toward his real home: California.
However, this time it was with the San Francisco Giants. He wouldn't get to wear his number 4- which was previously retired by the Giants for Mel Ott- and the 1964 season, now age 37, would ultimately be his worst since he first broke into the league as a 20-year-old in 1947. It was after this that Snider hung up his cleats for good.
Duke Snider wouldn't leave the game of baseball after his time on the field was over. He became a popular voice on TV and radio in his post-playing days and was the play-by-play man for the San Diego Padres (1969-1971) and the Montreal Expos (1973-1986).
Snider also found his way into a number of television and movie roles- both credited and uncredited- while playing himself or a professional baseball player.
It was during 1980 that Snider had the two biggest honors in his career bestowed on him. On July 6th, the Los Angeles Dodgers retired his number 4 (worn by just 3 other players after he left). And then, less than a month later, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame with 86.5% of the vote along with Al Kaline. It was Snider's 11th year on the ballot.
Duke Snider would continue to be involved with the game through his later years in life before passing away at the age of 84-years-old on February 27th, 2011. He was the last living Dodger who was on the field as they won the 1955 World Series.