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The Duke of Baseball

Inside Column | Thursday, March 3, 2011

After my first column two months ago, a hero of mine and former sports editor of the Los Angeles Times complimented me for my effort.

That made my day/month/year. The columnist whose work I have read for the past few years just outside of Los Angeles praised my creativity, yet he asked me to promise to never fill this space about myself again. I crossed my heart and hoped to die.

But please excuse me now; this is something I must do once more. It’s personal, because I owe so much to a person I never met: The Silver Fox, the Duke of Flatbush, No. 4, one of the greatest center fielders to play the game. Shame on you for not knowing who he is. If you are a baseball fan, then you know Duke Snider.

If you don’t recognize the name then join the club, because he is baseball’s most underrated player. Ever.

You probably have heard of Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays. Back in the heyday of baseball, Mantle played for the super-Yankees, Mays for the potent Giants and then there was Snider, the man always overshadowed by the former two, captaining the Boys of Summer (Brooklyn Dodgers).

All took their place in center field, all hit their prime at the same time, all put up incredible numbers, but all played in New York. Snider was the one always left out. Yet he is the only player to hit four home runs in two separate World Series. And along with the Great Bambino, Snider is the only player to smash over 40 homers five years in a row — without the help of steroids. He even was the only player of the famous Manhattan trifecta with over 1,000 RBIs in the 1950’s, the aforementioned heyday. The 8-time All Star never had the fame of Mantle and Mays, but he definitely had the numbers. Yet he is still overlooked by baseball fans everywhere, even the Dodgers faithful.

That has to change.

Without Duke, I am not a sports fan. My number one team has and always will be the Dodgers, and without his prowess the move from Brooklyn to Los Angeles probably doesn’t happen. That erases my fondest childhood memories. Scrap Santa Claus. When Dad came home on a Thursday night with tickets in his hand, I went nuts. Walking up the hill to Chavez Ravine, enjoying the cool breeze and watching the team I would die for is something in itself, all while No. 4’s plaque hung proudly from the outfield. I am homesick just thinking about it. My fondest memories, obliterated without Duke. Shame on me for realizing after his recent passing, but now I know. This piece really could go on forever, but, sadly, I can hear the editors playing their Oscars music.

I know the number of I’s here may displease you, Mr. Dwyre, but I couldn’t let this one go.

Thanks Duke.