Back in the 50’s, it seemed that every kid where I grew up in upstate New York was a baseball fan of one of three teams – the Yankees, the Giants or the Brooklyn Dodgers – to the exclusion of the other two. Everyone in my family was a Dodger fan, and although we tolerated the Giants, we absolutely despised the Yankees (maybe because they beat the Dodgers so many times in the World Series). By the time I started seriously following baseball in 1960 at the age of 10, the Giants and Dodgers had already moved to California. But during those years before the New York Mets came on the scene in 1962, we were still staunch Dodger fans.
My earliest memories of the Dodgers go back to the World Series of 1959, when they beat the Chicago White Sox in five games. There were some great players on that team: Gil Hodges, Junior Gilliam, John Roseboro, Wally Moon, Don Drysdale, Larry Sherry – but the one that captured my imagination was the center fielder: Edwin Donald “Duke” Snider.
When I started collecting baseball cards the next season, I traded with every kid in the neighborhood who had a Duke Snider card. By the time I stopped collecting cards a few years later, I had Duke Snider cards from 1952, 1954, and 1956 through 1962. Sadly, when I went off to college, my father decided my baseball card collection (numbering about 2000) was taking up too much space, so he took the box out to the garage and stopped the first kids to walk by, asking them if they wanted any. As word caught on around the neighborhood, within about a half an hour (so I found out later), my entire collection, to include all those Duke Sniders, were gone.
I actually saw the Duke in person once. It was the summer of 1963, and my family traveled down to Yonkers (just north of the Big Apple) to visit my aunt and uncle. My father, my brother and I went to the Polo Grounds on Saturday for Camera Day. By then, Duke Snider had been traded to the Mets. As the players strolled along the warning track, posing for the fans, I suddenly find myself within a few feet of the Duke himself. I took a few photos, but what I really wanted was an autograph. As a thirteen-year-old, I was faced with a dilemma: Do I respectfully ask, “Mr. Snider, may I please have your autograph?” or do I take a bolder approach: ”Hey, Duke! How about an autograph?” I chose the latter. The only response I noticed was a slightly faded smile on his face; he kept on walking. I kind of doubt he would have given me an autograph if I had chosen the more polite approach, but I’ll never know for sure.
That was almost half a century ago, and so much in this world has changed since then. A few months later, a President was gunned down in Dallas, then came the Vietnam War, the Summer of Love, Watergate, and so many other events that complicated our lives. But for me, Duke Snider represented a simpler time – a time of heroes and of innocence. He will be missed.