Rest in Peace, Duke Snider.
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Wow..they'll be a few tears in Brooklyn tonight. I remember playing on Ocean Parkway as a kid in the early 80s and hearing the "old-timers" (probably only guys in their late-40s or early-50s) talk about the Dodgers and how they would never, ever watch a Yankee game..and that Duke was better than Mantle or Mays (?!)
And Mr. Mays made three. You just don't know what it was like unless you were there. My friend, Jimmy Santi, and I played wiffle ball right after it was invented. I batted Yankees. He batted Dogers. Willie Mays batted fourth after the Duke. Tough lineups. His reasoning was that The Mick was a switch hitter, so he was entitled to a slugger who could swing from either side.
I used to have T-shirts that had the three guys on the front. Bought it on 7th Avenue in the Slope. MLB made the guy stop making it. People stopped me on the street to renew the debate. One guy wanted to buy it off my back.
Damn. I remember how stupid he looked in the Mets outfit. Not as stupid as Willie. Duke looked even stupider in a Giant uniform. In 1964, Memorial Day weekend, the Giants came to Shea. A friend's father took me and him to a game. Willie played center. Duke played left. The place was packed. Willie hit a triple ( I looked this up). The fans went wild (I remember this). People were crying, I swear. You just didn't know who to root for.
I would love to revisit the newspaper reports of that weekend.
 Sorry. Preparing for the Academy Awards party at my house.
Not just Brooklyn mourns the Duke. How about that name? Hard to explain the debate to anyone. I lived in Stamford. We rooted, too. Lived on Maple Street in Brooklyn, up from the O'Malley estate in the 80's and 90's. People still argued the pernt.
Look up that Giant team from 1964. Cepeda, Mays, Snider, Perry, an Alou, Harvey Kuenne, Willie McCovey, and Jim Ray Hart (31 hrs), whom many of you Yankee fans will remember as finishing his career in the Bronx in 1973, maybe. Phew. I hope some of you banterers have as much fun with this as I am, despite my grieving.
Duke visited LA as a Giant and hit a homerun. Nice.
Last November we featured an interview here with Jane Leavy talking about her Mickey Mantle book. How could we talk the Mick without Willie and the Duke? Here's what she had to say, in case you don't remember...
BB: When Mantle arrived in the early 50s it was kind of a golden age of New York City baseball, with Duke Snider and Willie Mays leading competitive teams in Brooklyn and Manhattan while Mickey did his thing in the Bronx. What was that rivalry like? Did those three men have a sense of what was going on, or is this something that’s been created in retrospect?
JL: I said something to Duke about ’51, and he said, “No, it really started in ’54.” Mantle had been injured in the Series, then Mays left for the Army in ’52 and ’53, so ’54, he’s right, was the first time that they were really, metaphorically and literally, together on the big stage. So that’s when it really all dates back to. The “who’s better” thing didn’t really begin until ’54, because that was the first time they really all played a season on that center stage. I think it certainly gained force over the next couple of years with Duke continuing to hit his forty home runs a year and the Dodgers and the Yankees being in the two World Series. And Willie faded, of course. He didn’t have those great years. All things you read about Mantle, how he’s not fulfilling his potential, there were stories like that about Mays.
BB: It’s surprising. I recently read the Mays biography, and it’s kind of amazing to read what people were writing about him at the time.
JL: Duke was really great on this subject. I think he certainly resented it, and Carl Erskine described this to me how O’Malley exaggerated the pressure by putting all the averages up on the scoreboard. All through ’54 you had the head-to-head things with Mays and Mueller and Snider. Duke didn’t like that at all, and he felt it was counter to the Branch Rickey way he had been schooled in: if the team wins, the individual numbers will be there. But it really was the old ethos. That’s what they cared about then. Not just because they were selfish, but because that was how they were gonna make the money, if they played in the World Series. Scott Boras wasn’t around to count the base hits and the stolen bases. It didn’t really matter. Duke said that he and Willie would kibitz behind the batting cage – Oh, I got you today, blah, blah, blah – but they weren’t close friends by any stretch of the imagination. I love the story about Willie hitting two home runs in Ebbetts Field and coming out to the parking lot to find all four of his tires slashed and having to take the subway back to Harlem. This was personal. When people say it took a lot of guts to be a Mickey fan in Brooklyn, it really did! I think Duke and Mickey overlapped a lot in the World Series, obviously, but a lot of it is retrospective. Right at the opening of the ’57 season Stan Isaacs had a piece in Newsday about who’s better, saying we’re starting to see it now, but we’ll know in fifteen years when all the statistics are dry. Well, we don’t know, because we’ve just invented more statistics to keep the debate going. The debate’s just relocated from the street corner to cyberspace.
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