Duke Snider, the great center fielder for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1950s, died the other day and this sad event prompted thousands to recall those simpler times when superstars walked and lived among ordinary people. And make no mistake about it, Duke Snider was a superstar. Perhaps only the third best center fielder in New York in the 1950s (those were also great years for Mays and Mantle), he nevertheless became one of baseball's all-time greats. He hit more than 40 home runs for five years running, a level of consistency never even approached by Mantle or Mays. Additionally, he not only hit for power and for average, he partrolled the outfield with unmatched grace and effectiveness, though never quite as sensationally as the Say Hey Kid.
In a piece in today's New York Times, residents of the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn recalled the years when Snider and his family used to rent a house in their neighborhood and would even car pool with other members of the team who lived nearby to games with their arch rival the New York Giants. This was literally a time when great baseball stars, who never commanded the outrageous salaries of today, lived in ordinary neighborhoods and interacted regularly with ordinary people. It is almost always dangerous to nostalgically recall a simpler, better time, as there are always aspects of that earlier time that were backward or pernicious. But there is also something appealing about great athletes living down the street and coming over for barbecue after a long hard day in the sun in the outer reaches of Ebbets' Field or the Polo Grounds.