Monday, February 28, 2011

Rant #453: The Duke of Flatbush

Brooklyn Dodger great Duke Snider passed away this weekend. He was in his 80s and died 3,000 miles away from his past heroics, in Los Angeles.

Snider was a ballplayer of mythical proportions in New York. If Jackie Robinson was the heart and soul of those great Dodger teams in the 1950s, then Snider was its muscle.

Although the Dodgers moved west to Los Angeles more than 50 years ago, Snider's records still stand--he continues to be the Dodger career leader in home runs and RBIs.

I was born in 1957, so I really never got to appreciate the Duke, certainly in comparison with New York's other two Hall of Fame centerfielders, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays. Snider was a bit older than they were, started his career before they did, and probably in comparison, he wasn't as good a player as megastars Mantle and Mays.

But for Brooklyn Dodger fans, he was a God.

He was a star on and off the field, lived in Brooklyn during those years, and was a member of the only Brooklyn Dodger team ever to win a World Series, the 1955 team.

I heard about Snider's passing watching a Yankees spring training game yesterday. I barely remember Snider as a player. When I got interested in baseball in about 1964, he was playing for the Mets, a ragtag bunch of ballplayers if there ever was one.

But the Mets proceeded smartly, especially in a town dominated by the success of the Bronx Bombers, the New York Yankees.

The Mets stunk, but they did it in style.

During those years, they mixed younger ballplayers--most of whom were pretty bad--with seasoned veterans, many from New York's other teams, that were at the end of their careers.

Snider played with former New York players like Don Zimmer and Yogi Berra, and the team was managed by former Yankee skipper Casey Stengel.

They were a horrid bunch, but the fans became enamored of them, and they became the sweethearts of New York. If the Yankees were like GM during those days, then the Mets were like, well, Rambler.

Snider will be greatly missed. He was one of the last remaining "Boys of Summer," and although I barely recall him as a player, he made his stamp on New York baseball.

And he was immortalized in the classic tune "Willie, Mickey and the Duke" by Terry Cashman, an ode to a different time in our lives.

As the Duke moves onto his greater rewards, I know Brooklyn, the place of my birth, is shedding a collective tear today.

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