02/27/11 10:45 PM EST
Baseball laments the passing of 'The Duke'
By Bailey Stephens / MLB.com
Snider, the legendary center fielder of the Dodgers during the team's heyday in Brooklyn in the 1940s and '50s, passed away on Sunday morning at the Valle Vista Convalescent Hospital in Escondido, Calif. He was 84.
Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig was among the first to express his condolences at Snider's death, issuing a written statement.
"Duke Snider was a great human being, an extraordinary Hall of Fame player and an integral part of Dodger history, winning the World Series in both Brooklyn and Los Angeles," Selig said. "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 -- Willie, Mickey and The Duke. Then, the Los Angeles native went home and helped usher in a new part of baseball history with great class.
"I have many fond memories of watching Duke play, and I will be forever grateful for getting to know him well in the ensuing years. I extend my deepest condolences to Duke's family, friends and all the Dodger fans."
Mays, now the only surviving member of Willie, Mickey and The Duke, released the following statement through the Hall of Fame, of which he became a member in 1979.
"Duke was a fine man, a terrific hitter and a great friend, even though he was a Dodger," said Mays, the longtime Giant. "It was great playing center field in New York in the 1950s, along with Mickey and Duke. I have wonderful memories of that. Duke and I played on some All-Star teams together and even on the same Giants team the last year he played (1964).
"Today, I feel that I have lost a dear friend. He was a hero to the fans in Brooklyn and a great Dodger."
Don Zimmer, who played alongside "The Duke of Flatbush" with the Dodgers from 1954-59, lamented Snider's passing.
"I knew he's been very sick, and the last couple of weeks, I knew he was really bad," Zimmer said. "He's been very sick the last couple of months.
"Duke never got the credit of being the outfielder that Mays and Mantle were," Zimmer said. "First of all, Ebbets Field was a small ballpark. But Duke was a great outfielder. He was a great player. What can I say, I played with him five years. What can I say, this guy was a great center fielder and a great hitter."
Dodgers owner Frank McCourt expressed condolences on behalf of the club, highlighting Snider's indelible impression on the franchise.
"Duke was one of the truly legendary Dodgers who made his mark first in Brooklyn and then in his hometown, Los Angeles," McCourt said in a written statement issued by the Dodgers. "I had the pleasure of spending time with him on several occasions and he was a truly wonderful man. I'm so glad that we were able to keep him as an active part of the Dodger family over the past several years. The entire Dodger organization is deeply saddened by his loss and our heartfelt thoughts are with Beverly and his family."
Snider's depth of character was also celebrated by many of those who expressed condolences, including fellow Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda, whose sentiments were conveyed in a written statement from the Dodgers.
"I was Duke's teammate and looked up to him with respect," Lasorda said. "Duke was not only a great player, but he was a great person too. He loved his family and loved the Dodgers. He was the true Dodger and represented the Dodgers to the highest degree of class, dignity and character. He was my teammate and friend and I will really miss him."
Dodger Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully highlighted Snider's unique talent on the field, in addition to expressing his sympathies, in a written statement issued by the team.
"He was an extremely gifted talent and his defensive abilities were often overlooked because of playing in a small ballpark, Ebbets Field," Scully said. "When he had a chance to run and move defensively, he had the grace and the abilities of [Joe] DiMaggio and Mays and of course, he was a World Series hero that will forever be remembered in the borough of Brooklyn. 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, especially to Bev."
Snider's skills also transferred to the broadcast booth, where he became one of the voices of the Montreal Expos from 1973-86 alongside Hall of Fame broadcaster Dave Van Horne.
"He was a good friend and a terrific broadcaster," Van Horne said. "A Hall of Fame ballplayer and a Hall of Fame person. My heart goes out to his wife, Bev. It's been a long, long battle the last several years for Duke. He's been in ill health.
"He was a wonderful broadcaster, a great storyteller. Of course, an iconic baseball figure. The great Duke of Flatbush. A very sad day for baseball to see an iconic figure pass. Far too many of them, like Bob Feller, and now Duke are no longer with us. But he left a lot behind. A lot for generations to read about and hear about his exploits on the field."
Snider's far-reaching impact on baseball, on and off the field, became even more evident on Sunday.
"I remember the first time I met him," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "It's like you're meeting a god, a baseball hero for all of us."
Reds manager Dusty Baker recalled several meaningful interactions with Snider.
"I think he was managing Albuquerque when I went through there my first year," Baker said. "I had a lot of conversations with him at Dodgertown after that. He was a fine man. I remember Jim Gilliam and Roy Campanella used to talk about him. He was on the team with Jackie [Robinson]. Man, that's a tough one to hear."
Another Major League manager, one with his own iconic spot in Dodgers history, D-backs skipper Kirk Gibson reflected on Snider's contributions to the game.
"We're losing a lot of guys this year it seems like recently," Gibson said. "He's part of history and he'll be remembered in a good light. He gave a lot to the game. His spirit and contribution will not be forgotten."
Nor will his inspiration. White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, who grew up in Brooklyn, said Sunday that Snider was one of his "idols" growing up.
"He really was one of us," Reinsdorf said. "As a 21-year-old rookie, he lived on my block and often would join us in games of stickball on his way home from his day job as the Dodgers center fielder. I always told him he was a better baseball player than he was a stickball hitter.
"One day a kid hit the ball into a passing baby carriage, and I remember that the mother refused to give us back the ball. She would only give it back to Duke. I was 11 years old then. Duke, Pee Wee [Reese], Jackie [Robinson] and the rest of the Dodgers were everything to us. With news of his passing, I really stop and think, 'Where have all the years gone?'"
He's not the only one.