Baseball BeatMarch 04, 2011
The Duke of Hazard
By Rich Lederer

Edwin "Duke" Snider died last Sunday at the age of 84. We're talkin' baseball here. Willie, Mickey, and the Duke. Three Hall of Famers who patrolled center field in New York during the 1950s.

There have been countless tributes written about Snider during the past week, including one titled simply "The Duke" by the prolific Joe Posnanski. In addition, Duke's death has been a topic of conversation on the Society of American Baseball Research's SABR-L message board. The latter has focused on the time when Snider hurt his arm trying to throw a baseball out of the Los Angeles Coliseum in April 1958.

Posnanski mentioned that Snider "had a powerful arm when he was young but hurt it and was never quite the same after he turned 30" but doesn't provide any details. SABR members Bob Timmermann and Lloyd Davis provided excerpts from articles in the Los Angeles Times and Associated Press. I also found one from The Milwaukee Sentinel.

This story got me thinking about what my Dad, who covered the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1958-1968 for the Long Beach Independent, Press-Telegram, had to say about the matter. I pulled out his scrapbooks and found three separate stories on this subject.

The first was published in the morning newspaper (then known as the Independent) in a separate boxed insert on Thursday, April 24, 1958 as part of the Dodgers-Cubs game coverage from the previous night.

Clowns, Hurts Arm

Duke Snider, who so far has failed to hit a ball out of the Coliseum, tried to throw one out Wednesday night with the adverse results.

Clowning around before batting practice, the Duke attempted to clear the concrete wall bordering the 79th row. He came close once, tossing one into the 77th row, but pulled a muscle in his arm on the final try.

Manager Walter Alston had to yank Snider from his announced lineup and he may miss today's game, too.

The second was the lead to a longer story with the headline spanning the entire newspaper of that evening's newspaper (known as the Press-Telegram).

Snider in Dodger Doghouse


There are some strained feelings among the Dodgers today, both physical and otherwise.

Physically, the strain is in Duke Snider's right elbow. Otherwise, it is between Snider and manager Walter Alston and the Dodger front office.

The Duke learned the hard way Wednesday night that he is paid roughly $40,000 per season to try and hit, not throw, the ball out of the park.

In a bit of pre-game horse play with utility infielder Don Zimmer, Snider strained a tendon in his right elbow as he tried to heave a ball out of the Coliseum, 79 rows high and some 120 feet deep.

Alston, who had already announced his lineup, was forced to make some quick changes. He not only yanked Snider, but suspended him without pay until he is ready to play again.


Snider, who had succeeded in tossing a ball as far as the 77th row before straining his elbow, watched the action from the bench and was not informed of his suspension until after the game. His injury is believed to be not serious, but may keep him out another day or two.

Alston said he would not tolerate such antics. Snider, hitting only .217, was still showing the effects of last December's knee operation that sidelined him until late in the exhibition season.

The third article appeared in the newspaper the following day.


Clowning Costs Duke Day's Pay

Duke Snider was in a surprisingly good mood Thursday when he was reinstated in the Dodger lineup by Manager Walt Alston after some extra-curricular clowning cost him a day's pay.

The Duke was forced to sit out Wednesday night's 7-6 loss to the Cubs when he strained his right elbow in trying to throw a ball out of the 79-row Coliseum.

Snider was suspended for the night and docked a day's pay, which amounted to $275.

When asked how the arm felt, Snider said, "Peachy. I can't afford to lose another day's pay and neither can Uncle Sam. You know, I'm the guy who's firing all those missiles."

Alston was still somewhat sore about the incident. He also fined utility infielder Don Zimmer $25 for his part in the throwing contest. "Zimmer was just as much a part of it as Snider. The only difference is that he didn't get hurt. I would have liked to have Snider in there last night."

Dodger relief pitcher Ed Roebuck also commanded the spotlight briefly during Wednesday night's three-ring circus. Roebuck drew a $25 fine for trying to hit the scoreboard clock with fungoes in pre-game practice.

"He was supposed to hit fly balls to the outfielders," Alston said. "Instead, he was fooling around and knocking balls into the peristyle end. You won't see him hitting any today."

Snider showed no signs of being affected by the elbow injury. He threw well from left field and beat out an infield hit in his first time at bat. Rookie Don Demeter replaced Snider in the seventh inning.

There you have it ... the real story behind how the Duke of Hazard hurt his arm in 1958.

While I'm not a fan of leaders by the decade*, I found it interesting that Snider led MLB in home runs (326) and RBI (1,031) during the 1950s. You know, the decade that featured Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial, and Eddie Mathews. Williams missed virtually all of the 1952 and 1953 seasons to the Korean War. Mays and Mantle were rookies in 1951, and Mays missed a large portion of '52 and all of '53 to the military as well. Mathews slugged 299 HR despite debuting in 1952. Many other superstars like Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, AL Kaline, and Frank Robinson didn't make it to the majors until the mid-1950s. By the way, Snider's teammate Gil Hodges was No. 2 in HR that decade with 310. Mathews was third, followed by Mantle (280), Musial (266), Yogi Berra (256), Mays (250), Ted Kluszewski (239), Gus Zernial (232), and Banks (228).

*Jack Morris led the majors in wins during the 1980s and Mark Grace led in hits during the 1990s.


A quick correction -- Willie came up in May 1951, then lost most of '52 and all of '53 to the military. He was back in '54 when he led the Giants to the World Series win over Cleveland. I'm told he made a decent catch in the Series opener!

Good catch. Silly me. I have since corrected my mistake. Thanks.

Duke Snider was a great ballplayer, offensively and defensively. However, he had two huge things in his favor. Number one was Ebbets Field, which was Fenway Park for left handed hitters. 297 ft. down the line with a 40 foot high fence. High flies became HR's there.

More importantly, he was the only left handed batter on a great, great team. Jackie, Pee Wee, Campy, Furillo and Hodges were all right handed hitters. It was considered suicidal to throw lefties against Brooklyn (Warren Spahn had fewer decisions against the Dodgers than against any other team).

Duke Snider rarely saw a left handed pitcher. But, give him credit. He took advantage of the ballpark and the pitching he saw. And isn't that what a great ballplayer does?

Rich, thanks for the glimpse from the scrapbooks of your Dad's articles about the early years of the LA Dodgers. I enjoy every excerpt you provide from them on your blog.

I'm just glad it wasn't a story about Elijah Dukes!

I imagine the little footnote on Morris and Grace was to demonstrate the absurdity of "decade-best" statistics?


What a contrast to how things are done today. Walt Alston showing up a player and suspending him without pay! What would the player's union say about this today? I love how Duke didn't make a big deal about it. Now that baseball is a business, this type of goofing off doesn't happen as often as it used to (Didn't Rocky Colavito throw a ball over the fence in Cleveland from home plate?), though I hear Zach Greinke has some 'splaining to do for his pick-up basketball injury recently. Thanks for sharing this Rich, it's what keeps me coming back to this great site!