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#155 Duke Snider


Duke Snider passed away today at the age of 84. He’s shown in his 1964 Topps card in the twilight of his career, giving the trademark off-camera stare he portrayed in most of his baseball cards over the years. This is a card I acquired more than 20 years ago when I bought a binder full of old cards for $50. It’s in pretty good shape, probably an EX.

Though Snider did play the 1963 season for the Mets, he was sold to the Giants on opening day of 1964. This being a card from the 2nd series, Snider’s card was already printed before that deal was made. 1964 was his last season, so Topps never made a card showing him in a San Francisco uniform.

Snider’s years with the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers are well-documented elsewhere so I won’t get into that too much, but his one-year return to New York was a bit turbulent.

His career had been declining due to injuries since the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles. He only topped 400 plate appearances once in five years in L.A. By 1962, he hit just 5 homers in 196 PA. So Dodgers GM Buzzie Bavasi decided to unload Snider’s salary by shipping him to the Mets, a team desperate for some star power.

Snider played more than he had the previous three seasons, but didn’t exactly tear up the Polo Grounds (1963 was the last season the Mets played in Manhattan). He hit .243/.345/.401 with 14 homers and a 114 OPS+, but was named to the All-Star Game by Giants manager Alvin Dark, who managed the NL squad. According to this story, Snider was chosen over Vada Pinson and Frank Robinson, who were both having better seasons (though Pinson was having a down year by his standards). It was Snider’s first appearance in the game since 1956.

After a 51-111 season with the hapless Mets, Snider asked to be sent to a contending team. So, the Mets obliged by sending him to the Giants, one of the better teams in the NL at the time. The Giants, of course, also happened (just like today) to be the biggest rival to the Dodgers. Despite Snider’s declining skills, Bavasi was not amused by this move. In a story from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that I found, Bavasi apparently felt that the Mets were not acting honorably when they sold Snider to the Dodgers’ chief rival (the Pittsburgh writer was in New York for the Pirates-Mets series that opened Shea Stadium in 1964, which is why he was writing about the Mets).

But it wasn’t Bavasi’s opinion that was the highlight of the story. Mets pitcher Tracy Stallard took this opportunity to blast Snider for his play with the Mets:

“He came to us as a hero and left as an unappreciative laggard. We lost a lot of 1-0 games and maybe if he didn’t complain so much he might have helped.”

“Snider never hustled when he was with us. He tried to live on his reputation. We really expected him to be an inspiration off his great record but he turned out to be a bad influence.”

Snider told close friends he wanted to finish up playing for a contender and didn’t have an pride with the Mets.

“He didn’t have any pride in himself,” Stallard snorted. “If he had pride, he would have played 100 percent all the time and not sat back complaining.”

“There was only one player on this team who didn’t try. His name is Snider. Everybody else did the best he could.”

Harsh words.

Incidentally, Snider batted .210 with 4 homers in 189 PA for the Giants. He started only 33 games, and mostly appeared as a pinch-hitter. He retired after the season.

Now, this might look like it’s turning out to be a hit piece, which is not the point. For guys whose careers are covered in great detail elsewhere, I just want to try and capture something about the part of their career documented in these cards that I’m writing about.

Snider was a great player whose lifetime 140 OPS+ was very good and more than made up for his reputation for posting great numbers simply because he played in a hitter’s park (Ebbets Field). He hit more homers in the 1950s than any other player, despite playing the last two years of the decade in the cavernous L.A. Coliseum. He always played third fiddle to Mantle and Mays in New York, but was often as good — or even better — than those two in the mid-’50s.

But Snider’s mouth was always an issue. He famously told Brooklyn it “didn’t deserve a pennant” and admitted once that money was the main reason he played baseball. However, after he retired he spent about 15 years as a well-liked broadcaster for the Montreal Expos.

Despite a dominant stretch between 1950 and ’57, Snider never won the MVP but was an All-Star seven times. Oddly, Snider finished second in the 1955 MVP balloting to his teammate Roy Campanella because of a voting error. According to Rob Neyer and Eddie Epstien’s book, Baseball Dynasties, a voter accidentally listed Campanella twice — in first and sixth. Clearly, the voter meant to put Snider in one of those spots as Snider appeared nowhere else on the ballot. Had it been thrown out, Snider would’ve won the award. But the league elected instead to count Campanella’s first-place vote, and not give Snider any points from the ballot. So Campanella won, 226-221.

It took Snider 11 years to get voted into the Hall of Fame. Perhaps that was partially because of playing in the same era as Mays, Mantle and Aaron. Perhaps it was because his raw numbers (2,116 hits and 407 homers) weren’t huge. Perhaps his attitude had something to do with it. But he was worthy of his election in 1980, even if, as Ted Williams said at his induction ceremony, it came 10 years later than it should have.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Wyatt Barton permalink
    10/25/2012 4:14 pm

    Nice piece about the Duke. Thanks. I remember going to see the Dodgers play in the mid to late 50s in Brooklyn. Good memories.

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