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Curtain Call

In the Mets early days, they had a willingness to bring back some of New York's baseball heroes of the past. Management had a sentimental side for people like Casey Stengel, Gil Hodges, Duke Snider, and Willie Mays, who were on the down side of their careers, but had something to offer to fans from the good ole' days of city baseball.

Let's focus on 1980 Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Edwin Snider, better known as "Duke," "The Duke of Flatbush" and "The Silver Fox," today. For those too young to remember him, Snider starred for the Brooklyn Dodgers, particularly during their glory years. From 1953 to 1957 Snider put up unbelievable numbers, including a career high 136 RBI in 1955 when next year finally came for the Dodgers, who beat the Yankees in the World Series. In that five-year span, Snider averaged 41 home runs and 117 RBI, hit better than .300 on three occasions and played a fine defensive centerfield. Basically he was the equivalent of Mays and Mickey Mantle, though he may have been a step or so slower.

Snider was the first of the "Willie, Mickey and the Duke" contingent to grow old, which makes sense since he was the oldest of that trio. By 1963 he was 36, and a part-time player so on April Fools Day, the Dodgers sold him to the Mets, who had more needs than they knew.

Snider's first two hits with the Mets were home runs, which made him useful. However, his bat must've been pretty slow because it seemed to pretty much be home run or nothing for Snider, who had nine, but was only batting .217 entering a June 7 meeting with the St. Louis Cardinals.

The starter for the Redbirds that day was a future Met (Dr.) Ron Taylor and he got the better of the Flushing 9 (or in these days, at the Polo Grounds, the upper-Manhattan 9) for the first eight innings of this contest. Taylor, a second-year man used primarily as a reliever, took advantage of this spot appearance and entered the ninth in search of his first major-league shutout, having allowed only two hits. The Cardinals had scored twice on Mets starter Al Jackson and carried that edge into the final frame.

With one out, Frank Thomas, pinch-hitting for Choo Choo Coleman singled and rookie Ron Hunt followed with a walk. Taylor's day was done, as he was replaced by 43-year-old lefty Diomedes Olivo, who, unbeknownst to him, only had a few days left in his major-league career.

Snider was up and Olivo ran the count to 2-2, mixing in a passed ball along the way to advance the baserunners to second and third. Snider guessed curve on the next pitch and got one, pulling it into the upper deck in right field, a cheap home run in the Polo Grounds, but one nonetheless. It left Snider one home run short of 400 for his career. The New York Times article doesn't specify whether Snider came out for a bow, but does say that the crowd of 15,000 plus refused to leave. "It was a miniature reenactment of the crowd reaction to Bobby Thomson's 1951 home run in this same ballpark."

Snider reached the 400-homer mark on June 14 in Cincinnati, but his longball prowess soon disappeared. He finished the season with 14, but didn't hit one after July 25. Snider was sold to the Giants in 1964 and finished his career with them, hitting four home runs to give him a final tally of 407. The walk-off homer was his last moment of glory on the East Coast, and he managed one magic moment that final season, hitting a game-tying ninth-inning home run in Los Angeles, helping the Giants beat the Dodgers.

True Metsosopranos know...The combination of "Willie, Mickey and the Duke" tallied two walk-off hits for the Mets. Snider and Mays each had one.


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