Monday, February 28, 2011

Willie, Mickey and The Duke

I can't imagine what my father is going through today. You see his boyhood idol Duke Snider, 84, passed away Sunday. For all of you now asking, "Who's Duke Snider?" I'm about to educate you.

The Duke of Flatbush, as he was known, was a major cog in the those great Brooklyn Dodger teams of the late 1940s and early 1950s. He came to the big leagues the same year as Jackie Robinson, 1947, and was a teammate of Jackie's as well as Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella and Gil Hodges. From 1949-1957 Snider averaged 35 HR and 109 RBI while hitting .305. During that span the Dodgers won five National League pennants and the only World Series title the franchise ever captured in Brooklyn.

That magical year of 1955 when the Dodgers finally beat their hated rival Yankees in seven games, Duke had his best year, slugging 42 homers, knocking in 136 and hitting .309. For you sabermetric geeks, his OPS was 1.046.

Twice Snider hit four home runs in a World Series and was the first National Leaguer to hit 40 or more homers in five consecutive seasons. In other words, it's why he was in the title of the Terry Cashman song Willie, Mickey and the Duke (Talkin' Baseball); because Snider played in an era where the greatest center fielder's in the game resided in New York.

Duke finished his 18 year career with 407 home runs and a .295 career batting average. For some reason it still took eleven years for the baseball writers to elect him to the Hall of Fame.

Back to my dad. I was the one who had to tell him his idol had passed away. I almost couldn't find the words. You see I was afraid it was another reminder of his own mortality and it certainly served notice to me that I too will have to experience losing my hero... my dad. The one who taught me how play catch, showed me how to swing a bat and passed on the love for the game of baseball.

My dad took the news in stride. He said it was "fitting" I should be the one to tell him of Duke's passing. He had a senior softball game today. He had two hits and knocked in three runs. He wore his Brooklyn Dodger hat proudly. His first words to me? "Duke would be happy."

Jason Brown


Wanda said...

This is an AWSOME article!!! Very touching.
- Wanda Dailey-

Anonymous said...

A very thoughtful & well written article! You have captured the spirit of life & sport.