Snider, Edwin Donald ("Duke")

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SNIDER, Edwin Donald ("Duke")

(b. 19 September 1926 in Los Angeles, California), All-Star professional baseball slugger who hit 407 home runs in eighteen seasons with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Snider was the only child of Ward Snider, who worked in a naval shipyard and also played semiprofessional baseball, and Florence Johnson Snider, a homemaker. Snider grew up in Compton, California, and went to the public schools there, maintaining a "B" average at Compton High School.

Ward encouraged his son to play baseball and taught him to hit left-handed even though Snider was right-handed. The reason was simple: most major league parks favored southpaw pull hitters, and there were more right-handed than left-handed pitchers. In high school Snider usually played in the outfield and occasionally was a pitcher (he once tossed a perfect game). He also played basketball and football and ran track. By the time he graduated from Compton High in February 1944, he had won sixteen letters in sports. However, baseball was his best sport and his real love.

Snider's power hitting and speed attracted the attention of the Brooklyn Dodgers. A scout signed him to a contract when he was only one month out of high school. He played minor league baseball with Dodgers farm clubs in Montreal, Canada, and Newport News, Virginia, until he was drafted by the U.S. Navy in December 1944. On active duty until his release in May 1946, Snider served in the Pacific aboard the submarine tender Sperry.

Soon after he returned home to Compton, Snider married his high-school sweetheart, Beverly Null. The wedding took place on 25 October 1947, and the couple eventually had two children. The family later moved to Lynwood, California, where the Sniders became partners in developing an avocado farm near Oceanside.

After his military service, Snider played for a minor league team in Fort Worth, Texas. Then after a brief stint in the majors with the Brooklyn Dodgers, a team that had too many outfielders, he returned to playing minor league ball, this time with a club in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Gradually becoming a better hitter by not chasing bad balls out of the strike zone, he again played in Montreal before returning to Brooklyn in the last half of the 1949 season to hit .292 with twenty-three home runs. Snider also was an excellent center fielder.

In 1950 Snider struggled with frequent slumps at the plate; nevertheless he hit .321 and had thirty-one homers, followed in 1951 by .277 with twenty-nine home runs. The next year his batting average went back up to .303. He also had a great World Series in 1952, although the Dodgers lost it in seven games to their perennial rivals, the New York Yankees. Snider had 10 hits in 29 times at bat, while hitting 4 homers and driving in 8 runs. His four home runs tied the record held by Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.

Snider's 1953 season was grand. He hit .336 and had forty-two homers. He came into his own as a baseball slugger who also continued to be good with his glove. From the 1953 season to the end of the 1957 season, he hit forty or more home runs each year. In 1955 the Dodgers finally won the World Series against the Yankees. However, Snider's performance was not a big factor in the victory, with only three hits from twenty-one appearances at the plate. He played in several more World Series and averaged a respectable .286 with eleven total home runs. He was also named to the All-Star team seven times. He hit more home runs in the 1950s than any other major league player. His career totals were awesome: a .295 batting average, 407 homers, 1,259 runs scored, and 1,333 runs batted in. He also had more than 2,000 total hits.

Snider retired as a player in 1964, but he continued his baseball career. For one year he was a scout for the Los Angeles Dodgers, after which he became a minor league manager of a Dodgers farm club for three years. Then he was a broadcaster for the San Diego Padres for three more years before taking the manager's job with a minor league team affiliated with the Padres. In 1973 he was snubbed when he sought a major league coaching job with the Padres, after which he became an announcer for the Montreal Expos, a position he held until his final retirement in 1986. Along the way, Snider received many honors, including induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1980.

The clean-cut Snider, who did not smoke and did not like alcohol, tarnished his image in 1995 when he admitted to cheating on his taxes. He received a $5,000 fine and a probated sentence. In part, Snider's trouble with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) stemmed from his declining financial position. Million-dollar contracts were unknown in the 1950s, and Snider made less than $100,000 per season as a major league player. Also, he had bought a bowling alley in California that eventually bankrupted him. To recover, he earned money from signing autographs and making personal appearances that he did not report to the IRS.

Despite his tax problems, Snider will always be remembered as one of the "boys of summer" who entertained millions of people. When fans talk about the greatest players of the game, the "Duke of Flatbush" is usually on their short list, along with baseball superstars like Ty Cobb, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, and Pete Rose.

For a discussion of Snider's IRS problems, see Michael Berenbaum, "As a Boy of Summer, Snider Takes a Fall," Washington Post (31 July 1995). For an in-depth look at Snider's career, see his autobiography, The Duke of Flatbush (1988). For an evaluation of the autobiography and other details of Snider's life, see Barry Sussman, "Ebbets Field Lives on in Snider's Memories: The Duke's Book Spins Tales, Digs No Dirt," Washington Post (16 June 1988). Snider also receives much attention in Roger Kahn, Boys of Summer (1972). Snider's career achievements are mentioned in Joseph L. Reichler, ed., The Baseball Encyclopedia: The Complete and Official Record of Major League Baseball (1988), and Edward J. Reilly, Baseball: An Encyclopedia of Popular Culture (2000).

James M. Smallwoodm