* Brooklyn Dodger great inducted in Hall in 1980
* Powerful slugger in great Dodger lineup of 1950s
* The subject with Mays, Mantle in popular song
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Duke Snider, a Hall of Fame
centerfielder who was the leading home run hitter for the
fabled Brooklyn Dodger teams of the 1950s, died Sunday. He
Snider was a graceful outfielder with a picture-perfect
left-handed swing. He batted third for the Dodger teams that
ruled the National League from 1947 to 1956 and were lionized
in Roger Kahn's book "The Boys of Summer."
He died from natural causes at the Valle Vista Convalescent
Hospital in Escondido, California, the National Baseball Hall
of Fame said on its website.
Snider was a Dodger fan's answer to the question, who's the
best centerfielder in New York -- a debate involving fellow
greats Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle that long outlasted their
rivalry of the 1950s.
After they retired, this holy trinity of New York
centerfielders -- all in the Hall of Fame -- appeared together
on sports talk shows to discuss the rivalry among their World
Series-winning teams, their fondest moments on the field, and
to kid one another about their enduring association.
A popular song "Talkin' Baseball" by Terry Cashman in 1981
made the exploits of "Willie, Mickey and the Duke" even more
All three would cash in on the notoriety. As an autograph
craze unfolded in 1980s and 90s, they signed baseballs, bats,
and lithographs that were sold or auctioned off to fans who
never saw them play but wanted a piece of baseball history.
Snider played 18 seasons in the Major Leagues, spending
partial seasons with the Dodgers in 1947 and 1948 before
becoming a full-time star the next year. He also played for the
New York Mets and San Francisco Giants, retiring in 1964.
He helped propel the Dodgers to World Series titles in 1955
over Mantle's New York Yankees and, after the team moved to Los
Angeles, in 1959. He was ranked 84 on The Sporting News' list
of the 100 greatest players and was inducted into the Hall of
Fame in 1980.
A BOY OF SUMMER
"The Duke of Flatbush," as he was called, patrolled center
in Ebbets Field in Brooklyn's Flatbush neighborhood when New
York was the capital of the baseball universe.
The Dodgers' lineup included eventual Hall of Famers Jackie
Robinson, Pee Wee Reese and Roy Campanella, along with sluggers
Gil Hodges and Carl Furillo. Snider was the trigger who hit 40
or more homers in five consecutive years.
In their heyday the Dodgers won six National League pennants
and lost two in the final game of the season, including the
famous playoff loss to Mays' New York Giants in 1951.
In all, during the 1950s, Snider led all league batters in
total homers and runs batted in.
During the four overlapping years when Mays, Mantle and
Snider played full time, from 1954 to 1957, the Duke had the
most homers and runs batted in.
Edwin Donald Snider was born Sept. 19, 1926, in Los
Angeles. His dad gave him the name Duke when he was a toddler,
and he was a standout athlete at Compton High School in
baseball football, basketball and track.
Branch Rickey, the Dodger executive who picked Jackie
Robinson to be the first black to play in the Major Leagues,
said of a young, raw Snider that he had "steel springs" in his
powerful legs. Snider could hit for average, hit for power,
run, throw and field very well.
Snider hit four homers in two different World Series, in
1952 and '55, and for many years held the record for most
Series homers with 11.
Snider, though had difficulty with criticism. The Brooklyn
fans booed him one night when he played poorly. "These are the
lousiest fans in baseball" he shouted afterward, and that made
the headlines. The fans roasted him the next night, but after
getting key hits in the game, he was Dodger royalty again.
He hit the last home run at Ebbets Field on Sept. 22, 1957.
In 1962 he had the first hit at Dodger Stadium, the team's
now-iconic home in Los Angeles.
He owned an avocado farm in California for many years and
was a respected announcer for the Montreal Expos.
The autograph craze was lucrative for Snider, but in 1995
he pleaded guilty for failing to pay taxes on earnings from his
appearances at baseball card shows.
(Writing by Philip Barbara; editing by Eric Beech)
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