Remembering Baseball Legend Duke Snider

Baseball icon Duke Snider passed away on Sunday. Host Melissa Block speaks with Snider's former teammate Carl Erskine.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

A baseball icon and a Brooklyn icon died yesterday: Duke Snider who was a Hall of Fame center fielder for the Brooklyn and then Los Angeles Dodgers for 16 years. Back then, the Dodgers were great, but a World Series title eluded them until one magical year, 1955.

Unidentified Man: In the Dodger third, Duke Snider against the range on Whitey Ford.

(Soundbite of marching band)

Unidentified Man: Going, going. A homerun for the Duke, his sixth in World Series competition...

BLOCK: Duke Snider's homerun helped the Dodgers beat the dreaded Yankees and capture Brooklyn's only championship.

Pitcher Carl Erskine was Duke Snider's teammate for 12 years, and he joins me now.

Thanks for being with us. And I'm sorry, this must be a very tough day for you.

Mr. CARL ERSKINE (Former Pitcher, Brooklyn Dodgers): Hello, Melissa. It's tough, and yet it floods back in my mind all those great times. I was roommates with Duke for 10 years. We became, I said - we were brothers without the blood. We - Duke and I kind of shared a chemistry that helped us both.

BLOCK: Is there a signature moment for you when you think back on Duke Snider in center field in Brooklyn that just jumps out for you as the classic moment?

Mr. ERSKINE: Well, one time in Brooklyn, one of the things remembered most, Duke had a bad night, and he got kind of blasted by some of the fans and Duke made a comment about the fans being lousy, lousiest fans in the world.

We came back the next night. They booed him like crazy. And so, Duke took it in stride and first time up, he doubles. Next time up, he singles. And by the fourth time at bat, they were cheering the roof off for Duke Snider.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ERSKINE: That was sort of typical of how Brooklyn fans were in love with the team. You played bad, they told you so. When you played good, you were the best in the world.

BLOCK: You know, it's interesting, if you think about that time, baseball in New York in the '50s, you had these three incredible center fielders: Mickey Mantle for the Yankees, Willie Mays for the Giants and then Duke Snider for the Dodgers. Do you think he was overshadowed, in a way, by those two?

Mr. ERSKINE: I think most of us that saw Duke play every day felt there was nobody who could feel the centerfield better than Duke. Now, he had one disadvantage that the other two great players did not have. They both played in spacious outfields.

And Ebbets Field was very small. There was not much room. You turn around to chase a fly ball, it was already in the stands. But Duke made some great catches. In fact, I pitched an 11-inning game against the Yankees in 1952, and I got credit for the win. But they should have given it to Duke because he made two or three fantastic catches in Yankee stadium that saved my bacon that day. And I always said it appeared that he played better when I pitched.

BLOCK: Hmm. And those catches that you're remembering, you know, that field, what was he doing that was so special?

Mr. ERSKINE: Well, he had a good jump on the ball as any good center fielder does have. He had a grace about him too. He was - DiMaggio had a sort of a signature stride and look.

Well, Duke had his own classic stride. And I thought, in Brooklyn, which was kind of an orphan borough in a way, big town Manhattan, the Bronx, the Yankees, the Giants, but Duke, he brought some royalty to Brooklyn.

BLOCK: Well, Carl Erskine, thanks for taking the time to remember your former Dodger teammate, Duke Snider.

Mr. ERSKINE: Thank you, Melissa.

(Soundbite of song, "Talking Baseball")

Mr. TERRY CASHMAN (Singer): (Singing) Willie, Mickey and the Duke. Say hey, say hey, say hey. It was Willie, Mickey and the Duke. Say hey, say hey, say hey. I'm talking Willie, Mickey and the Duke.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

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