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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Of Dukes and Other Royalty

Duke Snider was hugely talented, agreeably and disagreeably human by turns, and essential to the myth of the Brooklyn Dodgers — for the move west from Ebbets Field to the other side of the continent threw his career into permanent decline, almost as if the Duke of Flatbush had lost his royal powers when he was exiled.

It was a cruel bit of irony that Snider should have been the one undone by replacing a B with an LA on his cap. He was from Los Angeles — straight outta Compton, as it would be put later in a rather different setting — and at first he welcomed the chance to come home. But where Ebbets Field had invited lefty sluggers to bash the ball onto Bedford Avenue, the converted Olympic track-and-field stadium known as Los Angeles Coliseum promised them doom: To Snider’s consternation, it was 440 to right center. Snider had hit 40 or more home runs for five years running in Brooklyn, and was just 31. His first year in L.A., he hit 15. In shockingly short order (helped along by a bad knee), he became a part-time player, then a Met, then a Giant in a bit of unhappy farce, and then retired at 37. (Tip of the cap to our pal Alex Belth for passing along an excellent Dick Young retrospective from Inside Sports about Snider. You can read it at the bottom of this Bronx Banter post.)

Duke Snider 1964 ToppsWe remember Snider for the memory of him as a Dodger, and for that lone campaign as a Met. His 1964 Mets card captures him perfectly, in oversaturated Topps colors: silver hair, ice-blue eyes, the penetrating gaze and granite chin of a captain of infantry or industry. Yet I’m torn when I think of those old New York players and their victory laps around the Polo Grounds. They bind the Mets more closely to the Dodgers and Giants and Yankees than blue and orange and pinstripes already did, it’s true — and I’ll always be a sucker for mystic chords of memory. But the likes of Hodges and Woodling and Zimmer and Snider and Berra and even Casey himself were brought to New York not because they could help their new club — with the exception of the luckless Roger Craig, they did very little of that — but, as Greg noted earlier, to be sideshows meant to distract the paying customers from how shabby the on-field product was. (This self-defeating nostalgia had an encore with Willie Mays’s farewell tour in 1972 and 1973, but I can forgive Mrs. Payson that one: What’s owning a baseball team for, if not trying to stop time for your favorite player?) The Mets got better when they outgrew serving as a rehearsal for Old Timers Day for the Boys of Summer and their ancient adversaries; in paying homage to the 1950s Dodgers and Giants and Yankees who wound up in orange and blue, we should remember that the franchise’s early days would have been less pathetic with fewer such cameos.

Young’s retrospective about Snider is itself thick with nostalgia — in it, the Duke and Pee Wee and Oisk ride again, celebrating at Borough Hall and carpooling from Bay Ridge and jawing with sportswriters and fans and opponents and each other. But Young doesn’t shy away from Snider’s gaffes, like telling Roger Kahn he played for money or shouting that Brooklyn’s goddamn fans didn’t deserve a pennant.

Snider caught hell for that last one, at least until he hit his way back into their good graces. Thinking about that, I was drawn to today’s bit of Mets news: Carlos Beltran’s preemptive declaration that he would play right field, sliding over for Angel Pagan. “In my heart, I still feel that I can play center field,” Beltran told reporters, “but at the same time, this is not about Carlos — this is about the team.” You could almost feel the disappointment as the assembled beat writers watched a juicy spring-training storyline disappear with a minimum of fuss and strife; by contrast, Terry Collins’ relief was practically palpable.

Beltran, being Beltran, will get little praise from a certain segment of the fan base for putting the team above his own pride. (Let me guess: His agent put him up to it so he can extract more value from somebody.) I’ve given up trying to convert those who can’t help but see Beltran as embodying all that’s supposedly wrong with baseball today. They dislike one of the franchise’s greatest players for making the game look easy, for not throwing tantrums when he fails, for not trusting his knee to the Mets’ idiot doctors and dithering front-office cheapskates, for having Scott Boras as his agent, for not managing to hit an impossible 12-to-6 curve when geared up for a fastball, for attending a charity meeting about building schools in Puerto Rico instead of going to Walter Reed, for being injured, for being rich, for being Carlos Beltran.

Here’s what I wonder: How would Duke Snider be treated today, in a world in which salaries have grown astronomically, our demand for information is voracious and spastic, and a reflexive cynicism threatens to pervade everything? Snider’s per-year earnings as a ballplayer maxed out at $46,000. That’s about what Carlos Beltran will make in his first 3 2/3 innings of 2011. If they could trade places, would Snider’s sad decline from a knee injury have been blamed on his lack of toughness instead of a Yankee Stadium drain? Would his home-run outage in L.A. have been attributed to a lack of passion rather than a reconfigured park? Would Duke Snider have been a hero if he’d made $46 million instead of $46,000?

Two great preseason publications are out, each with contributions from Faith and Fear and other Mets writers you know and love. Get your hands on Amazin’ Avenue Annual here and Maple Street Press Mets Annual here.

9 comments to Of Dukes and Other Royalty

  • Joe D.

    Wondeful piece, Jason,

    But I think we can guess as to how shabby the Duke would have been treated today – instead of being appreciated for maybe seeing a great superstar making his farewell appearance, in whatever uniform would take him, he would be seen as just another aging ballplayer.

    When Duke came back in 1963 he was hailed as a hero to the New Breed. I was at a game when the Mets scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth to close the gap to 3-2 facing Sandy Koufax and the Dodgers. The fans were screaming “we want Duke, we want Duke”. My only regret was being only 12, my older brother who had taken me (and could also beat me up, if desired) wanted to leave before the crowd so I never saw that bottom of the ninth when Ron Hunt hit a two run homer and the fans cheered crazily for Snyder (a friend of mine who was there told me all about it the next day, darn!).

    But looking back at it now, I can’t help but feel sorry for Duke that last season in New York. He seemed sad and it did appear that one of great stature and pride was humilated being a a side show to a side show. Perhaps he needed the money for he could have retired instead. Though he played hard, he didn’t seem to smile or be enjoyng himself. Look at the pictures in the dug out. Recall the video of him hitting a game winning three run homer against St. Louis with two out in the bottom of the ninth. There seemed to be something missing when accepting the congratulations of his team mates as if it was not fun anymore. After ’63, he asked to be sent to a contender.

    Despite nine years playing under Walter Alston, he might have fallen into Alston’s dog house because Leo Durocher had been urging Dodger brass to fire Alston and hire him as manager instead. It was reported that in the top of the ninth inning of that third game of the 1962 NL playoffs (with the Dodgers ahead 4-2) both he and Durocher urged Alston to bring in Don Drysdale instead of Stan Williams to replace Ed Roubek. That there were more than just a few players who wanted Alston out and the Lip in is well documented – but not being able to get rid of so many players who were undercutting him, Alston and Buzzy Bavasi sent Snyder off to the Mets.

  • oogieball

    I don’t know what other fans may have against Beltran, but my only beef with guy comes down to one word: SWING!

  • WalterA98

    This is not related to Jason’s nice article but it seems that the reason the Mets are borrowing money is in preparation for their move – BANKRUPTCY. This is all part of the Wilpon’s strategy. Force Picard to accept a settlement rather than risk the Wilpons filing for bankruptcy and getting nothing.

    • nestornajwa

      I think you’re giving WAY too much credit to the Wilpons. I’m sure that a little lawyering could prevent the discharge of a “clawback” judgment in bankruptcy. But I admit that I don’t understand why the Wilpons are going broke NOW, before any judgment or settlement.

      Wasn’t it Mantle who injured his knee on a Yankee Stadium drain? And if both Mantle and Snider did so, was it the same drain?

  • Joe D.

    I think a lot might have felt different about Beltran had it not been for the agent he hired to represent him. Right or wrong, one is usually judged by the company he keeps.

    Carlos has always played hard and it’s only on rare occasion that we have seen him not give 100%. He is a good, dependable overall player and perhaps the worst thing that happened to him was not that called third strike in 2006 but the monster post season he had two years prior for it may have raised expectations on him too far high.

  • Florida Met Fan Rich

    Cafrlos Beltran cares about one thing. Carlos Beltran. I dont think for one secondhe is ding it for the good of the team.

    He is a free agent and he is doing it for his own pocket!

    • vertigone

      Do you actually believe that?

      Wouldn’t it have been in his best interest to have stayed in CF, as that’s considered a premium position, and would increase his value on the market? Aren’t corner outfielders easier to come by and therefore worth less?

      Please offer some insight as to why you think he is selfish. Where’s the evidence of this?

      Do you also blame him for getting fooled by a devastating 12-6 curve? I’m sure he would’ve hit it to the moon if he knew there was something in it for him.

  • dmg

    i’m with those who feel that beltran is underrated for what he has brought to the mets. we seem to take for granted the easy grace of his patrols in center field and are all too quick to dismiss his presence in the lineup. if anything, beltran symbolizes the team’s disappointments over the past half decade or so, an unjustifiably sad legacy.

  • Jeff K

    Actually, the reason I have NEVER cared for Carlos Beltran (as a Met) was the simple, indisputable fact that when Omar offered him $119 million over 7 years, he had Boras go to the Yankees and say that he would play for the Yankees for $100 million – or $19 million less than the Mets offer. The Yankees, as much as they wanted Beltran, could not afford him even at $100 million as they were over the cap and would have had to pay $40 million in luxury tax, so the rela cost of Beltran would have been $140 million. How is that any way to start a relationship with Met fans? Sorry, but the guy never wanted to be a Met in the first place. I have never forgotten that, nor will I ever forget that. Cannot wait until he is gone.