Dodger Memories: The Passing of the Duke

We called him Duke Schneider. That was because all of us Brighton first streeters were Jewish and the Brighton Beach section of Brooklyn was a predominantly Jewish enclave. Using Schneider instead of Snider made us feel more like he was one of us. There weren’t many great Jewish baseball players. Hank Greenberg didn’t play for a New York team so he didn’t really count. The only Jewish Brooklyn Dodger was the first base coach Jake Pitler number 31.

Edwin Donald Snider had a swing which in its own way was as beautiful as Ted William’s. When “the Duke” would unwind on a high fast ball or a hanging curve you knew for sure it would sail over the forty-foot high right field fence which was only 297 feet away at its closest point and complete its flight by bouncing on Bedford Avenue. You also knew that any ball hit in Duke’s direction when he was patrolling the outfield grass would be snared by him and that any opposing baserunner trying to stretch a single into a double, a double into a triple or score on a fly ball hit anywhere but the deeper real estate in center field, did so at his own peril.

I remember spending many a hot summer afternoon (school was never an obstacle) in the upper-deck bleachers at Ebbet’s Field watching “Dem Bums.” I paid the princely sum of 35 cents which along with the top seal from a bottle of Borden’s Milk containing the picture of Elsie the Cow allowed me to gain entrance to the hallowed neighborhood ball yard. I also had enough money remaining to be able to buy a hot dog. Heaven only knows what it was made from but it tasted great… in a completely non-beefy sort of way. The Dodgers were a solid contending team back then and with Cox, Reese, Robinson, Hodges, Furillo, Campanella, Newk, Oisk, the Preacher, Podres, Labine and the others I had the pleasure of watching them win most of the time. The Boys of Summer are all gone now except for Newk and I am the sadder for it. I never enjoyed the game of baseball as much as I did then and I don’t suspect I ever will. I learned how to win with humility and I learned how to lose with dignity. I’d like to believe, but nonetheless will ever hope, that the “Duke” is on The Field of Dreams with the rest of Dem Bums knocking the old apple over that 40 foot right field fence.

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