A strong, accurate throwing arm, grace, and athleticism made Duke Snider one of the great center fielders of the 1950s. He played sixteen of his eighteen seasons for Brooklyn and Los Angeles, where his .300 batting average, 389 home runs, and 1,271 RBIS rank him as perhaps the greatest Dodger hitter ever. Blessed with remarkable ability, competitiveness, and a drive to succeed, Snider was also cursed with the tag of unlimited potential.
Edwin Donald Snider was born to Ward and Florence (Johnson) Snider on September 19, 1926. He was their only child. Ward had been a semipro baseball player in his native Ohio. Most accounts list Snider’s birthplace as Los Angeles, but according to writer Al Stump, he was born in Belvedere and grew up in Compton, a city surrounded by Los Angeles.
Nicknamed “Duke” by his father for his selfassured swagger, Edwin grew rapidly as he entered adolescence, reaching six feet in height and weighing 150 pounds in high school. Duke participated in football, basketball, baseball, and track at Compton High School. He had a powerful arm, once throwing a sixty-three-yard touchdown pass. He was high scorer on the same basketball team as Pete Rozelle, the future commissioner of the National Football League. On the baseball team, he pitched and batted cleanup.
Snider performed well at a Dodgers’ tryout camp in Long Beach, California, and was offered a contract calling for a $750 bonus and a salary of $250 a month. The Pittsburgh Pirates subsequently offered him a $15,000 bonus, but Duke honored his Dodgers contract.
Duke Snider was a player who needed to be kicked to
perform at his best, according to manager Burt Shotton.
Invited to 1944 spring training at Bear Mountain, New York, Snider quickly demonstrated both his baseball talent and a difficult temperament. Cold and homesick—he failed to bring a coat— the seventeen-year-old moped instead of following directions to run laps. After apologizing for his behavior, Snider was inserted into the lineup against the West Point team and belted a long three-run homer. General manager Branch Rickey profusely praised Snider’s power, arm, and the “steel springs in his legs.”