Hall of Fame center fielder Duke Snider passed away today at 84.
Duke played for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1940's and 50's and moved with them to Los Angeles and played there for another 5 seasons. New York had 3 of the greatest center fielders in the history of the game play there at that time, with Duke, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays. Then he played a season for the Mets and one for the Giants. He hit 407 home runs, drove in 1333 runs and had a .295/.380/.540 batting line.
He was also my wife's favorite baseball player. Not because she ever saw him play, but because he was the color commentator for the Expos from 1973 to 1986. Working with Dave Van Horne, he was terrific. He had a very gentle way of speaking and worked hard to teach us hockey fans about baseball. Much of what I know about baseball I learned from listening to him. If he wasn't already in the Hall of Fame as a player, he really should have been in as a commentator.
My wife has a signed photo of Snider making a catch in CF at Ebbets Field up in her office. I got it for her last year when I was in Toronto for some Jays games.
One of the little bits I remember from Duke is a bit with him talking to Darryl Strawberry about batting and talking to him about not chasing pitches off the plate. Strawberry said something about 'So you never struck out.' Snider said 'hey, I struck out 1237 times.'
He wasn't all that smart with his money. He last a bunch opening up a 5 pin bowling alley in California. I'm not sure if 5 pin bowling is popular anywhere else but it was in my part of the world when I was young. It didn't become popular where he built the alley. He also had some tax troubles caused by not reporting money earned from signing shows.
If you haven't read Boys of Summer or if you haven't seen the documentary from the book, you are missing out. There is also a pretty good biography 'The Duke of Flatbush' which is somewhere in this house. I think I'll read it a again.
I owe a portion of my love of baseball to Duke Snider. It is too bad that I never got a chance to tell him that.