Baseball Hall of Fame member Duke Snider, who lived in Fallbrook for more than 50 years, passed away Feb. 27 at the Valle Vista convalescent home in Escondido. He was 84.
“Sad day for Fallbrook,” said Bob Lucy, who headed the Duke Snider-Upper Deck Home Run Derby which took place at Fallbrook High School’s baseball field from 2001 through 2006. “Just a really good man and a good friend of Fallbrook baseball.”
Snider spent 18 years in the major leagues but was also involved with local sports in Fallbrook. “He was just active with all the high school athletic teams,” said former Fallbrook High School baseball coach Bill Waite, who coached Snider’s younger son.
“I was saddened by the news of Duke’s passing,” said Jerry Gross, who announced San Diego Padres games with Snider from 1969 to 1971. “It’s a loss for baseball. It’s a loss for me as an individual.”
Edward Donald Snider, who was an only child, was born in Los Angeles on Sept. 19, 1926, and attended Compton High School. Snider, who batted left-handed and threw right-handed, was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers and began his professional career in 1944.
After missing the 1945 season due to his service in the Navy, Snider played in 68 games for the Fort Worth Cats of the Texas League in 1946. He started the 1947 season with the Brooklyn Dodgers, making his major league debut on April 17 of that year, and split time between Brooklyn and the Dodgers’ St. Paul Saints farm club in the American Association.
Although Snider did not play in the 1947 World Series, he married his wife, Bev, in October 1947.
Snider split 1948 between Brooklyn and Montreal. Snider’s Montreal teammates included Cliff Dapper, who would befriend Snider and eventually purchase avocado grove property in Fallbrook along with Snider.
“He was the hero of Brooklyn,” said Cafe Des Artistes owner Mike Calvanese, who grew up in Brooklyn and became friends with the Snider family after they began frequenting his restaurant. “Early in my life he gave me great thrills as a sports hero.”
Dapper had a three-acre avocado grove in La Habra Heights which caused Snider to become interested in raising avocados. Dapper acted on advice to look into Fallbrook and learned about a 60-acre plot in the Sleeping Indian area. Duke and Beverly Snider purchased 30 acres and Cliff and Stanna Dapper bought 30 acres.
Dapper developed both groves. Snider sold his Sleeping Indian property in the mid-1960s while Dapper, who passed away Feb. 8, remained on his grove until moving to a skilled nursing facility after his wife’s death in October 2008.
Snider also opened a bowling alley in Fallbrook in the early 1960s. Duke Snider Lanes operated until the mid-1960s.
Snider’s cumulative World Series statistics covering 36 games and six Octobers included 11 home runs, 26 runs batted in, and a .286 batting average.
On April 1, 1963, Snider was sold to the New York Mets, who played in Polo Grounds that year. The Giants obtained Snider on April 14, 1964, and he spent his final major league season in a San Francisco uniform. Snider, who also served as the Fallbrook Chamber of Commerce president in 1964, played his final game on Oct. 3 of that year and was released by the Giants three days later.
“He was a humble guy,” said Bob Leonard, who was the executive director of the Fallbrook Chamber of Commerce from 1994 to 2009. “It’s a terrible loss to our community to have both he and Mr. Dapper go so closely together.”
Snider played a total of 2,143 major league regular-season games. His final statistics included 407 home runs, 2,116 hits, 358 doubles, 1,259 runs scored, 1,333 runs batted in, 99 stolen bases, 971 walks, 1,237 strikeouts, 7,161 at-bats, 3,865 total bases, a .295 batting average, a .380 on-base percentage, and a .540 slugging average. In the field Snider had 4,099 putouts and 123 assists.
“He was extremely graceful in the outfield,” Calvanese said. “He was a fantastic hitter, but he was also an excellent fielder, one of the better ones.”
Snider’s career also included seven All-Star Game appearances, and he was selected a total of eight times.
Snider returned to the Dodgers organization as a scout in 1965, and during the season he became the manager of the Dodgers’ Spokane team in the Pacific Coast League. He managed the Tri-City Atoms to the 1966 Northwest League championship and the 1967 Albuquerque Dodgers to the Texas League pennant.
Snider was also a Dodgers’ scout in 1968, and when the Padres joined the majors for 1969 he became a Padres scout. Snider was also part of the Padres’ first radio broadcasting crew along with Gross and Frank Sims.
“It was a great thrill for me and a great joy,” Gross said of broadcasting with Snider.
Gross initially learned of Snider while listening to Brooklyn Dodgers games on the radio. “Duke was my idol as a youngster growing up in Rhode Island,” Gross said.
“Forty years later I was thrilled to become his radio partner,” Gross said. “It was kind of a dream come true for me.”
Snider was the KOGO analyst while Gross provided play-by-play announcing. “It was really an amazing story for me,” Gross said. “I used to wear his number in Legion ball and in high school.”
Snider wore uniform number 4 for the Dodgers. “Great player, great outfielder, great hitter,” Gross said. “His career was a great career.”
“I thought he was an exceptional analyst,” Gross said. “I was never really able to utilize how good a storyteller he was.”
Snider returned to managing in 1972 with the Padres’ Texas League farm club in Alexandria, posting an 84-56 record and winning the Eastern Division.
After the 1971 season Bob Chandler replaced Snider while Jerry Coleman replaced Gross.
Induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame requires selection by 75 percent of voting Baseball Writers of Association members. In 1980 Snider received votes on 333 of the 385 ballots cast and was enshrined in Cooperstown that summer.
The Dodgers also retired Snider’s uniform number in 1980.
All four of Snider’s children graduated from Fallbrook High School. “Duke was another great supporter of Fallbrook baseball and all Fallbrook athletics,” Waite said.
“He was very down to earth,” Waite said. “I thought the world of him.”
“We were lucky to have somebody like Duke Snider here,” Calvanese said. “He did a lot for the area.”
The Fallbrook Baseball Booster Club’s primary fundraiser for the baseball program is a pre-season golf tournament. The home run derby provided some funds for Fallbrook High School’s baseball program but primarily recognized Snider.
An organizing committee met at Del Rey Avocado to plan tournament details. “Duke would always be involved in the planning sessions,” Lucy said.
“Duke was always interested in what kids were going to be there,” Lucy said. “He was very, very involved in it. It was just wonderful.”
Lucy’s younger son, Donny, was a Fallbrook High School senior in 2001. “He was always very encouraging to Donny,” Bob Lucy said.
When Bob Lucy was throwing batting practice to his son on the high school field, Snider went into the batting cage to provide tips to Donny Lucy on how to swing and step. “It was amazing to see him at his age have such a fluid, beautiful swing,” Bob Lucy said.
Donny Lucy followed his high school career with three seasons on the Stanford University baseball team. As a college sophomore he struck out nine times in a series against Fullerton State. “Duke wrote him a fantastic letter about hanging tough,” Bob Lucy said.
Snider reminded the younger Lucy about his own four-figure strikeout total. “He (Donny) really cherished that,” Bob Lucy said.
During the 2002 home run derby, Fallbrook High School’s baseball field was renamed Duke Snider Field. “It was such a special day,” Lucy said.
Snider was also involved with the golf tournament and banquet fundraiser. “He was unbelievably generous with his time,” Lucy said. “It was just a wonderful experience, and he was such a gentleman.”
If weather permits, Fallbrook High School’s baseball team will open the 2011 season Saturday at home against Temecula Valley High School. The players from both teams will all be wearing uniform number 4 as a tribute to Snider.
Duke and Bev Snider were married for 63 years. In addition to his widow, Snider is survived by his son Kevin of Hemet, his daughter Pam Chodola of Fallbrook, his son Kurt of Temecula, his daughter Dawna Amino of Campbell, and his ten grandchildren Brandon, Jessica, Hali, Markie, Jennifer, Jordan, Robert, Kaitlin, Brendon, and Brooklynn.
A memorial service for Snider will be held March 12 at the Fallbrook Presbyterian Church. The service will begin at 2 p.m.
Donations may be made in his memory to the Fallbrook Union High School baseball program in care of Fallbrook Baseball ASB.
Editor’s note: This is an edited version of this story. To read the complete version, please go to www.myvalleynews.com.