Duke Snider was really hot stuff back in his day

I read yesterday that Duke Snider died. I had heard of the name of course and knew he was part of Ebbetts Field lore back in Brooklyn, and he helped the Dodgers win the World Series in 1955 and 1959. I’m sort of a stats geek, so I looked up his stats, and holy cats, he was a lot better player than I realized. He is mentioned a lot in books I’ve recently read about Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle.

One thing I am really struck by in looking at the statistics of old-time ballyplayers is the off-times dramatic dropoff in their numbers in their early to mid 30s. Not 40s. 30s. Duke Snider stopped being a full-time ballplayer at the age of 32. His last decent season was at the age of 34. He retired at 37. He only had 1,200 at-bats after the age of 32. Back then, before the days of off-season conditioning and arthroscopic surgery, injuries caught up with athletes awfully young, so what happened to Snider was typical — Mickey Mantle’s last good year was at the age of 32. Still, Snider managed to hit 407 home runs and drive in 1,333 runs.

Can you imagine what kind of numbers he would have ended up with if he could have kept playing — and playing regularly — into his late 30s and early 40s? It makes you really appreciate guys like Henry Aaron, who hit 40 home runs at the age of 39, Willie Mays, who hit 52 home runs at the age of 34 and Ted Williams, who hit .388 with 38 home runs … at the age of 38.

Duke Snider had a remarkable 9-year run in which he hit .301, and averaged 34.5 home runs, 108.5 RBIs and 107 runs a year — in a 154-game schedule. This was before the days of steroids, remember. I didn’t realize he was so good.