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08/09/11 11:00 PM ET
Snider family on hand as Dodgers honor Duke
By AJ Cassavell / MLB.com
LOS ANGELES -- Seeing the number four cut into Dodger Stadium's center-field grass brought Bev Snider back to a different era. It was an era when Duke Snider, her husband of 63 years who passed away in February, roamed the outfield in Brooklyn and Los Angeles from 1947-62 as the last Dodgers player to don that number before it was retired. The Dodgers paid tribute to Snider, the club's all-time leader in home runs, with a special pregame ceremony Tuesday night in which more than 40 of his family members were in attendance, including all four of his children and his wife. "This is something so special only Duke could bring it," Bev Snider said. "I love it." When asked of her memories of Dodger Stadium, Bev's eyes welled with a few tears. She pointed to center field and muttered one word: "Duke." The Dodgers honored Snider with pregame tribute video, a Snider bobblehead for fans in attendance and by putting his plaque from the Hall of Fame on display before and during the game. To Pam Chodola, Snider's daughter, the best part of the ceremony was the Snider reunion. Ten minutes before the game began, the entire family gathered behind home plate for a photo centered around Snider's plaque. "It means everything for this family to get together," said Chodola, who recalled knitting in the stands during batting practice because, as a girl, she wasn't allowed on the field in the late 1950s. "We used to do this every year. We'd go to Disneyland together as a family. Now we're saying this is like Disneyland again." An eight-time All-Star, Snider finished with 407 home runs and 2,116 hits in his 18 seasons, 16 with the Dodgers. He played in six World Series, winning two. Snider was never named Most Valuable Player, but from 1952-56, he finished in the top 10 in voting every season -- including finishing second in 1955 to teammate Roy Campanella by one of the narrowest margins. In that season, he hit .309 with 42 homers on the Dodgers' first World Series championship team. Snider was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1980, and his plaque remained stationed there until Tuesday, when Hall of Fame senior director Brad Horn escorted the plaque to Dodger Stadium. "Duke meant so much to the franchise that having his plaque here with so many fans seeing it on display helps keep his memory alive," said Horn, adding that Snider's plaque will return Wednesday to the same place it's hung for the last 31 years. Horn said removing plaques from Cooperstown is an incredibly rare occurrence, happening only about a dozen times in the last decade. He was with Harmon Killebrew's plaque when the Twins honored him after he passed away in May. But when the Dodgers called to ask to borrow Snider's plaque for a day, there was no hesitation on the part of Cooperstown. To legendary Dodgers announcer Vin Scully, who has a plaque of his own in Cooperstown, Snider's accomplishments on the field were only topped by his personality off it. Scully called Snider "an absolute sweetheart of a guy." He noted that while Snider may have been overshadowed by the abundance of center-field greatness in New York at the time, he certainly merited his place in the discussion of the game's best. "He competed in New York with Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and the memory of Joe DiMaggio," Scully said. "So it was awfully tough for him to get that recognition. ... To put it in proper perspective, he certainly belongs in the Hall of Fame and he certainly belongs in that song, 'Willie, Mickey and the Duke.'"
AJ Cassavell is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.