Sunday began for me like any other day, just watching the Lakers at OKC on TV while getting ready to cover another event, my first Anaheim Ducks game of the season. And then I wandered over to my computer during a break in the action of a great game (totally making me forget that the Dodgers and Angels had already started their TV Cactus League game) and saw an email had just arrived from the Dodgers. I could only see the partial headline which read “Dodgers mourn the passing of Hall of…” and the rest was blocked from view until I could open it fully. My first reaction was, OH NO not?? or ?? I quickly realized it could only be one of a couple of guys…and then it literally took my breath away, learning that Edwin “Duke” Snider had died at the age of 84. I had known for some time that Duke had not been well but you could always hope that somehow he’d find a way to be his old self again-like the guy we knew wearing that familiar #4 on his Dodger blues. What made it even worse for me was that I had immediately called my longtime friend and sportscasting colleague Dave Stone to inform him that his boyhood idle had just died (not knowing if he had heard the news, which he had not).
Now despite being much too young to have ever seen Snider play even near his prime, HE’S “The ‘bleeping’ Duke of Flatbush”! I didn’t see ‘The Babe, or Gehrig or Joe D. ever play either…but hey, you’re talking about the special charismatic legends of the game that without their stature it would just be ‘another’ game. Duke had it all, the overall game on the field (and not only chicks love the longball!), and you add an undefined charisma and the great nickname to reach a plateau that few ever reach in sport and you have a true sports legend. Unfortunately we’re simply running out of icons from an era long gone and from a personal standpoint as someone who appreciates the history and glamour of the old days, I can feel my childhood rapidly fading into the sunset too.
Despite all the many years that I’ve covered the Dodgers I really only had a few interactions with Duke, the last coming in 2005 on the 50th anniversary of the Brooklyn Dodgers only World Series championship and then again in 2008 (50 years after the Dodgers began playing in the L.A. Coliseum).
I took some pictures of Duke Snider still looking regal in his elder years and thought you might like to see them for the first time. The first of which posted here are from the L.A. Coliseum’s 50th anniversary celebration of the Dodgers arrival in L.A. I had the great fortune of joining several others in interviewing Duke, Wally Moon, Carl Erskine, and other early L.A. Dodger names (including one of my first heroes Chuck Essegian). I loved being at the Coliseum where I saw my first Dodger game in 1959 but the best part of my experience that day was being in the presence of ‘The Duke”. So I grabbed my camera a few times when catching him in moments around the stadium including the one where he interacted with another L.A. great Kareem Abdul Jabbar. The rest of the pictures (not including the ones before I was born of course) I took while playing around with my new camera at the Dodgers’ 50th anniversary of their 1955 World Series title in Brooklyn at Dodger Stadium. Duke had been ill leading into that day in 2005 missing any of the media get togethers, but he still showed up on time for the pregame ceremonies that included most of his teammates who were still around at the time.
That was also a fun day for me with the rare opportunity to get to interview Sandy Koufax along with all of his ex-Brooklyn mates. Since it was a scorching hot day, I remember Duke sitting in the dugout until being introduced to the crowd. I caught him a few times sharing stories with his old friends and even with a much younger one-the then manager of the Dodgers Jim Tracy. Trace is one of the great people you can meet anywhere and I later sent him a copy of this picture which he cherishes to this day.
Snider was one of those few people who when he walked into a room, you had to stop and admire the man. And for all of the power that he showed as a hall of fame hitter, he always came across as a very soft-spoken gentleman when I was in his presence (and I appreciated every time that I had the pleasure and truly cherished the moment). And folks, I’m not the type of guy who gawks at celebrities including the sportsworld’s elite. This was DUKE SNIDER-larger than life and a true icon who if you didn’t appreciate what he was about…you just didn’t get it! And I must finish by telling you how very special it was to interact with Duke the few times that I did and got to tell him the same. But what he then told me just blew me away even more than I could believe, that he knew of some of my work on the radio (which makes it soooo much more special). Sometimes folks, I must be dreaming this entire life!
It’s now strange to think that the great New York centerfield trio of Willie, Mickey, and the Duke are down to just Mays on this earth…but somehow you just know that Duke has already been greeted by “The Mick” with a cold one (or two, or 6!) so let’s enjoy Mr. Mays (the greatest player I ever saw over a career) for as long as we have him with us. Farewell Duke…and thanks for being one of those special people that helped give my life goosebump moments that makes it all worthwhile!