Sports Heroes Who Served: Brooklyn Dodgers Legend Duke Snider

Edwin D. "Duke" Snider poses for a photograph in his Brooklyn Dodgers uniform in 1953. (Photo By: Courtesy Los Angeles Dodgers)
Edwin D. "Duke" Snider poses for a photograph in his Brooklyn Dodgers uniform in 1953. (Photo By: Courtesy Los Angeles Dodgers)

Sports Heroes Who Served: Brooklyn Dodgers Legend Duke Snider

by David Vergun
DOD News

Edwin D. "Duke" Snider was the pitcher for Enterprise Junior High School’s softball team in Los Angeles beginning in 1937. During three of the four years he played there, the team won the league championship.

Edwin D. "Duke" Snider poses for a photograph in his Brooklyn Dodgers uniform in 1953. (Photo By: Courtesy Los Angeles Dodgers)

Snider recalled that three of the best hitters on the team were Japanese Americans. In February 1942, he said the three were sent to internment camps in the Midwest.

Snider continued playing both football and baseball at Compton High School in Compton, California. In 1943, he pitched a 6-0 no-hitter against Beverly Hills in his initial regional league appearance.

In June 1943, Snider's baseball coach at Compton, Bill Schleibaum, wrote to Branch Rickey of the Brooklyn Dodgers informing him of Snider's talent.

He wrote, ''During the past ten years, I have been directly connected with coaching, and it is my belief that Duke Snider is one of the finest baseball prospects that I have ever seen.''

The Dodgers invited Snider to a tryout camp in Long Beach, California, in September 1943, but they had to wait until his graduation in February 1944.

Snider accompanied the Dodgers to their Bear Mountain training camp in upstate New York.

"During our stay at Bear Mountain, we played the Army varsity team a couple of times," he recalled.

Edwin D. "Duke" Snider, right, and actor Robert Young star in an episode of the TV sitcom, “Father Knows Best,” sometime in 1956. It aired May 2, 1956. (Photo By: Courtesy Duke Snyder)

He returned home to California after the season, turned 18, and in late 1944, he was inducted into the Navy, serving as a fireman third class.

Early in 1945, he deployed to Guam and was assigned duties aboard the submarine tender USS Sperry.

Snider moonlighted for the 2nd Marine Division baseball team while in Guam and played for the USS Sperry baseball team.

The closest he said he ever came to combat was when he had watch duty on one of the ship's 5-inch guns. In that incident, an unidentified ship was sighted ahead.

"The command came down from the bridge to load the gun with a star shell that would be fired if the ship did not respond to our signal requesting identification," Snider said. "No World Series moment ever scared me as much. I was no authority on loading or firing shells. All I had been told in our drills was that you press this lever, a shell comes up, you put it in and press another lever, and the shell goes 'boom!'"

The submarine tender USS Sperry leaves Mare Island, Calif. heading for Guam, April 28, 1945. (Photo By: U.S. Navy)

"I pressed the first lever, the shell came up, and I put it into the loading chamber. I was actually shaking while waiting for the command to fire," he continued. "Two ships might start firing at each other in the middle of the Pacific Ocean as a small part of World War II, and I was going to be the one to start the firing."

"Seconds before the command to fire would have come, the other ship identified itself as friendly," he said.

Snider was later stationed at Long Beach Army Air Base in California. While playing for the base team, he got an offer to sign with the Pittsburgh Pirates, but Snider said he had his Brooklyn commitment to fulfill.

The submarine tenders USS Sperry, right, USS Proteus, middle, and USS Dixon, back, are docked at Ballast Point, San Diego, Calif., Jan. 24, 1985. (Photo By: U.S. Navy)

As center fielder, he played for the Brooklyn Dodgers and then the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1947 to 1962. In 1955 and 1959, the Dodgers won the World Series. Then, he played for the New York Mets in 1963 and, finally, for the San Francisco Giants in 1964.

Besides the two World Series, Snider was named an All Star eight times, 1950 to 1956 and 1963.

The Dodgers retired his No. 4 uniform, and he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1980.

Following his baseball career, Snider held a number of jobs in the media, including TV and radio announcer for the San Diego Padres from 1969 to 1971 and the Montreal Expos from 1973 to 1986. He also took TV and movie acting roles. In 2007, he was featured in the documentary film, ''Brooklyn Dodgers: Ghosts of Flatbush.''

Snider died on Feb. 27, 2011, in Escondido, California; he was 84.

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