Before he became the “Duke of Flatbush,” Duke Snider was Montreal’s “Duke of Delorimier.”
Signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers as a 17-year-old, Snider’s first contract included a $750 signing bonus and a $250 monthly salary. The power-hitting outfielder suited up for 131 games with Newport News of the Piedmont League (Class B) in 1944.
After fulfilling his military obligations in 1945 and part of 1946, Snider split the remainder of the 1946 campaign and the 1947 season between the minors and the big leagues. After starting the 1948 season with the Dodgers, Snider was assigned to the Montreal Royals in mid-May.
“The Dodgers in their wisdom, decided in the spring of 1948 that I still wasn’t quite ready to play every day in the major leagues,” recounted Snider in his 1988 autobiography, The Duke of Flatbush. “Once again, I was sent down to the minors, to their farm team at Montreal. Before I left, Mr. (Branch) Rickey called me into his office and said, ‘Show me some big numbers up there, son. Make me bring you back.’”
And Snider would do just that. In his first two games with the Royals, he homered in both ends of a doubleheader. Playing his home games at Delorimier Stadium, the young slugger hit .327, belted 17 homers and drove in 77 runs in 77 games, enough to earn him a big league call-up in August.
“On the afternoon of August 3, sure enough, there was Branch Rickey in the dugout as we got ready for the night game,” recalled Snider in his autobiography. “I walked over to him and said, ‘Mr. Rickey, don’t you think that 21 home runs (it was actually 17), a batting average over .300 and more than 70 RBIs in 76 games are big enough numbers to bring me back to the major leagues?’ He said, ‘Duke, play this game tonight and then pack your bags. You’ll be on a plane tomorrow morning, and tomorrow night, you’ll be the center fielder for the Brooklyn Dodgers.”
After leaving Montreal, the “Duke of Delorimier” would become Brooklyn’s “Duke of Flatbush” and enjoy an 18-year big league career that saw him hit .295, belt 407 home runs and drive in 1,333 runs. Sharing a city with Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays, Snider was often compared to his center field contemporaries. But when Snider slugged 40 homers in five consecutive seasons from 1953 to 1957, many felt he was the best of this storied trio. Snider was also selected to eight all-star teams, hit over .300 seven times and was a member of two World Series-winning teams. The California native moved to Los Angeles with the Dodgers in 1958, where he would bleed Dodger blue for five more seasons, before finishing his career with stints with the Mets and Giants.
Following his playing career, he managed in the Dodgers’ and Padres’ organizations before returning to Montreal to serve as a TV analyst on Expos broadcasts from 1973 to 1986.
“I teamed up with Dave Van Horne for 14 seasons,” recounted Snider in his autobiography. “The job was great, and so were the Canadian people and the Expos organization. John (McHale) and his owner, Charles Bronfman, were major league in every way. Dave Van Horne helped make me a broadcaster and was the perfect broadcast partner for me.”
Snider was elected to the National Baseball Baseball Hall of Fame in 1980. He now resides in Fallbrook, California and will turn 85 on September 19, 2011.