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Duke Snider, Hall of Fame Center Fielder for Brooklyn Dodgers, Dies at 84

Duke Snider, the Hall of Fame center fielder who in 1955 led the Dodgers to their only World Series win while in Brooklyn, died yesterday. He was 84.

Snider, the Dodgers’ all-time leader with 389 career home runs, died from natural causes at the Valle Vista Convalescent Hospital in Escondido, California, the Hall of Fame said in a statement on its website.

Snider played 16 of his 18 Major League Baseball seasons with the Dodgers, including 11 in Brooklyn before the franchise moved to Los Angeles. He played during a golden age for New York center fielders, with fellow Hall of Fame members Willie Mays playing for the Giants and Mickey Mantle on the Yankees.

“Duke was a fine man, a terrific hitter and a great friend -- even though he was a Dodger,” Mays said in comments on the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s website. “It was great playing centerfield in New York in the 1950s along with Mickey and Duke. I feel that I have lost a dear friend. He was a hero to the fans in Brooklyn and a great Dodger.”

An eight-time All-Star, Snider had a career .295 batting average with 407 homers, 1,333 runs batted in and 1,259 runs scored. He made his major-league debut for the Dodgers in 1947 and hit 40 or more homers in his final five seasons at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn from 1953-57.

Portrait of Brooklyn Dodgers center fielder Duke Snider taken in the 1950s. Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images Close

Portrait of Brooklyn Dodgers center fielder Duke Snider taken in the 1950s. Photo:... Read More

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Portrait of Brooklyn Dodgers center fielder Duke Snider taken in the 1950s. Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Snider led the Dodgers to a championship in 1955, when he was runner-up for the National League Most Valuable Player award after hitting .309 with 42 homers, 126 runs scored and 136 RBI. Snider and the Dodgers had lost to the Yankees in the World Series in 1949, 1952 and 1953 before beating their American League rivals in 1955 and losing to them in 1956.

‘Fan Favorite’

In 27 World Series games against the Yankees from 1952-56, Snider -- known to Brooklyn fans as “The Duke of Flatbush” -- hit .323 with 10 home runs and 24 RBI.

“There was no one classier or more easygoing than Duke Snider,” said Jeff Idelson, president of baseball’s Hall of Fame and Museum. “He was a fan favorite for his style of play, personality, accessibility and fondness for playing stickball with kids in the streets of Brooklyn.”

The era of 1950s New York center fielders featured prominently in Terry Cashman’s 1981 song “Talkin’ Baseball,” which has the refrain, “Willie, Mickey and the Duke.”

“He was a key player during a special era in baseball, joining Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle to form New York City’s unparalleled triumvirate of center fielders,” Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement. “Then the Los Angeles native went home and helped usher in a new part of baseball history with great class.”

Three-Sport Standout

Born in Compton, California, on Sept. 19, 1926, Edwin Donald Snider was given the nickname Duke by his father at age five. Snider was a standout in baseball, football and basketball at Compton High School before signing with the Dodgers in 1943 at age 17.

Snider briefly played in the minor leagues before serving in the Navy in 1945. He returned to baseball the next year, made his Dodgers’ debut in 1947 and became a starter in 1949, when he hit .292 with 23 homers and 92 RBI.

After 11 years in Brooklyn, Snider won another World Series title in 1959, the Dodgers’ second season in Los Angeles. Snider played with the New York Mets in 1963 and joined the rival Giants -- and Mays -- for his final season in 1964. Following his playing career, he returned to the Dodgers’ organization as a minor league manager.

“He was a World Series hero that will forever be remembered in the borough of Brooklyn,” Dodgers’ Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully said in a statement. “Although it’s ironic to say it, we have lost a giant. He’s joining a great Dodger team that has moved on and I extend my sympathies to his entire family.”

Hall of Fame

Snider was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1980 and his Dodgers’ No. 4 uniform was retired that year in ceremonies that featured Snider entering the ballpark from centerfield accompanied by Mays and ex-Yankee center fielder Joe DiMaggio.

“He was the true Dodger and represented the Dodgers to the highest degree of class, dignity and character,” said Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda, who played alongside Snider in Brooklyn in 1954-55 before managing the Dodgers for 22 years. “He was my teammate and friend and I will really miss him.”

Funeral arrangements are pending, the Dodgers said.

Snider is survived by his wife Bev, whom he married in 1947; sons Kevin and Kurt; daughters Pam Chodola and Dawna Amino; and 10 grandchildren.

To contact the reporter on this story: Erik Matuszewski in New York at matuszewski@bloomberg.net

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