Monday, 28 February 2011

Duke Snider (1926-2011)

The Duke of Flatbush, Hall of Famer and last of the Boys of Summer, died yesterday.  His obituaries have rightly focused on his 407 lifetime homeruns, his slugging exploits in the World Series, and his defensive skills.  Were it it not for Ebbets Field's cramped dimensions, Snider would  be remembered as much today for his DiMaggio-esque grace and range in center field as for his slugging.

But one Ducal feat has gone curiously unremembered.  Until 1950, only two major leaguers in the twentieth century had hit four homeruns in one nine-inning game, Lou Gehrig and Chuck Klein.  (Gil Hodges did it on August 31, 1950.)  Snider came within a few feet of this amazing accomplishment.  Not once.  Twice.  And both times he was thwarted by Ebbets Field's 38-foot-high right-field scoreboard and fence.
I was watching on TV the first time.  It was Memorial Day, 1950, the first game of a morning-afternoon doubleheader against the Phillies.  (That's right, a morning game.)   After swatting three homers, in his last at-bat Snider sent a long, high drive to right field, seemingly Bedford Avenue-bound, but it caromed off the top of the scoreboard.  It must have missed clearing it by five feet.

He came almost that close again, a few years later.  This time I was there.  In a high-scoring night game against the Braves, Duke had already hit three homers.  With the crowd roaring for a fourth, he came to bat late in the game, and the Braves brought in a left-hander to face him.  (I think it was Juan Pizarro.)  Usually lefties gave Snider a terrible time, but on this occasion he connected and drove one toward the scoreboard.  It was one of those line drives with lots of topspin, so it didn't have the necessary elevation.  It caromed off the scoreboard at least half-way up.  I think Duke got a long single out of it.  In Yankee Stadium it would have been a homerun.

We remember you, Duke.

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