I never had the privilege of seeing Duke Snider play in person, but I mourn his loss because of what he meant to old Dodgers fans like my grandfather and uncles, who then became Mets fans like I am today. Of all the players they talked about, none seemed to loom as large as Edwin Donald Snider.
The Duke played during what many baseball fans still see as the golden era, and that is especially true for fans here in New York City. While Boston may have had Ted Williams and St. Louis had Stan Musial, NYC was blessed with three superstar players: Willie Mays of the Giants, Mickey Mantle of the Yankees, and Duke Snider of the Dodgers. Can you imagine being a fan at that time with this amazing competition going on?
Of course, I was told of the ongoing debate among New York fans about which team had the best center fielder. It is without question that my family felt that in no uncertain terms that it was the Duke, though they seemed to acknowledge that the other two were pretty fine players too.
Pop mentioned that there were always rumors of a trade: Mantle for Mays, or Snider for Mays, and so on. The one thing he and my uncles dreaded most was the prospect of the Duke going to the Bronx for Mantle. He said that it wasn't even the thought of Mantle as a Dodger that bothered him as much as the Duke becoming a Yankee: that was blasphemy.
Besides hearing about the old Dodger stories as a kid, the thing that brought Duke Snider into my world was Terry Cashman's iconic song, "Talkin' Baseball" and it's famous line "Especially Willie, Mickey, and the Duke." That song came out in 1981 and hit a chord with many baseball fans, and though it is dated now, there is still the resonance in its reflection of the impact of baseball on American life.