Former San Francisco Giant Duke Snider who played for San Francisco for just one season 1964 (San Francisco Giants archives file photo)
HE WAS A GIANT?
Duke Snider – OF – 1964 – #28
By Tony the Tiger Hayes
The Duke of Flatbush a Giant? Pure blasphemy
To old school New Yorkers, the thought of a legendary Brooklyn Dodger – decked out in Orange & Black is about as incongruous as putting ketchup on a hot dog or passing up an opportunity to jay-walk.
But it happened in 1964, when Duke Snider, the iconic 1950s Dodger, turned up in Giants colors in the curtain closing campaign of a spectacular Hall of Fame career.
As a Giant, the 38-year-old Snider had clearly slowed as he ambled about the dugout resembling a wizened coach. He had an fluctuating waistline and steel gray sideburns that contrasted vividly against the midnight black of a Giants cap.
Frankly, Snider’s on-field performance did not belie his appearance. With his CF days behind him, Snider made just 34 starts for SF – his position divided between LF and RF. In 91 games, Snider batted . 210, 4 home runs, 17 RBIs – all career lows.
But there was no denying the prestige Snider added to a Giants club already teeming with all-time greats.
That ‘64 San Francisco club featured no less than six future Hall of Fame players: Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda, Gaylord Perry, Juan Marichal, Willie McCovey and the Duke.
Throw in World Series Perfect Game pitcher Don Larsen, former Rookies of the Year Harvey Kuenn and Jack Sanford, two out of three Alou brothers (Matty and Jesus) and the first Japanese-born big leaguer : Masanori Murakami, and the Giants were box office gold.
In a tightly packed National League, the ‘64 Giants would finish in fourth place with a fantastic 90-72 record, three games behind the World Champion St.Louis Cardinals.
Though his final numbers we’re pedestrian, Duke, née Edwin Donald, had his most notable moment as a Giant early in the season against the Dodgers.
Why Was He A Giant?
In 1963, after 16 seasons a Dodger, Snider was dealt to the woeful expansion New York Mets.
Snider had seen his playing time dwindle with Los Angeles, and he had openly questioned manager Walter Alston’s strategy in the Dodgers 1962 playoff series loss to the Giants.
On one hand Snider wanted to see how much he had left in the tank. But Duke’s feelings were still hurt by the trade.
Despite helping the Dodgers to their first west coast World Series title in 1959, Snider was not the same ball player in Los Angels as he had been in Brooklyn. His knees were achy and the Dodgers had young talent brimming in the minor leagues. As his time in Los Angeles winded down, Snider found himself losing playing time to the likes of Tommy Davis, Willie Davis and Ron Fairly – all bonafide big league talents.
So the the Big Apple beckoned and the slugger – who once belted 40 or more HRs in five consecutive seasons with Brooklyn- was returning to a city that truly adorned him.
Though the transaction was essentially a public relations move, Snider was still a decent hitter. He would give the Mets a much needed established star after the club went a dreadful 40-120 in their first year of existence.
But Snider’s return to New York was bittersweet.
Though appreciative of the overwhelming fan support, the Mets inadequacies gnawned at the prideful athlete who had never played on a losing ball club with Brooklyn.
Duke was the Mets All-Star Game representative in 1963, but the infamously bumbling club was only marginally better than their maiden season – losing an embarrassing 111 games.
Snider was determined not to end his storied career as a member of the slap-stick comedy routine called the “Amazins.”
“This can drive you out of your mind,” said Snider the following spring when he still found himself on the Mets roster. “You go crazy on a team like this.”
For the sake of his own sanity, Snider practically begged to be traded. He got his wish when his contract was sold to San Francisco.
“Just the opportunity to play for a contender makes me feel younger. I can play two or three more years. It means a lot more when you go up to the plate for something more than individual achievement,” he said.
Before & After
The Golden Age of New York baseball in the 1950s, the game was dictated from center field.
The best player from each NY club during that glamorous era roamed CF. Yankee Stadium had Mickey Mantle, the Polo Grounds’ vast emerald acreage was the playground of Willie Mays and Ebbets Field’s lawn was the domain of Snider’s.
Career-wise; Snider clearly ranks third of the trio. But during a four -year stretch from 1953-56, they were practically equals. Over that period, Snider averaged .320, 42 HR and 124 RBI.
The Duke led Dodgers won the pennant five times and one World Series once during his five borough tenure from (1948-57). During that time frame the Giants captured the pennant twice – winning the World Championship in 1954 – and each season, the Dodgers came in second.
The blood rivals had countless battles in which Snider cemented his legendary pedigree.
When the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in 1958, Snider was going home, having been born and raised in Southern California.
Snider became the first batter to reach base in the first big league game ever played in California, when he walked in the first inning vs. the Giants at SF’s Seals Stadium (4/15/58).
Though he was one of several Brooklyn stars to make the journey west, Snider was 34 and his numbers declined in California.
In his final at bat in the majors, Snider singled as a Giants pinch hitter off the Cubs Lindy McDaniel in a 10-7 home loss (10/3/64).
He was released after the season and soon announced his retirement.
Snider would finish his career with a lifetime average of .295 with 407 HR and 1333 RBI. He entered the Hall of Fame in 1980.
He Didn’t Get His Own (Giants) Bobblehead. But…
Snider introduced himself to SF by going a deflating 0-for-13. Then SF visited LA. In the Saturday night tilt of a three game series (5/2/64), Snider found his groove.
In his first at bat, Snider cracked a single to right and then came home on a Jim Ray Hart triple. Dodgers starter Joe Moeller carried a 4-2 lead into the ninth, but he walked McCovey on four straight pitches to to start the frame. On the next pitch, Duke hit a searing drive over the head of Frank Howard and into the Dodger Stadium right field pavilion to knot the score. SF would win 5-4 on a 12th inning knock by Chuck Hiller.
During the prolonged bitter baseball strike of 1981, obscure songwriter Terry Cashman released a nostalgic day novelty record titled “Talkin’ Baseball (Willie, Mickey and the Duke).”
A surprise hit, the track, dripping with Americana, was a paean to a simpler baseball stars could cure a nation’s ills with a swing of the bat.
The song covers on the sports most romanticized era of the 1950s through the early 1980s – with the lyrical refrain returning to the kicker “Willie, Mickey and the Duke.”
Of the more than two dozen baseball figures name-checked in the lyrics – 10 of them have ties to the Giants, which is more than any other team, including of course “Willie and the Duke.”