Baseball comparisons are as inevitable as they are apt to be invidious, especially where those archrivals, the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers, are concerned. No one knows this better than Edwin Donald (Duke) Snider (see cover), Brooklyn's great center fielder, who many have come to consider the most dangerous hitter in the National League.
All the press-agentry that has developed in the last year over whether Snider or Willie Mays (opposite) could carry each other's bat and glove is strictly for the birds in the bleachers, Snider feels. Ordinarily a noncombative, even overmodest, person, the Duke this spring was needled into declaring, "It's just plain silly, comparing us. I think the real fans know who's the better ballplayer." With a cogent, blue-eyed stare, he subsequently added, "I make more money, don't I?"
Snider does—about $35,000 to Mays's $25,000—but he's been around a lot longer than Willie. And in spite of Mays's great 1954 performance, Snider's current larger paycheck would seem but a proper tribute to his eight-year record, his .307 lifetime average ( Mays's is .304), his sensational slugging and his tremendous fielding. Not as dashing as Willie is in center, or as flamboyant, and more confined by the fences of Ebbets Field than Mays is in the Polo Grounds, Snider reminds one of the careful, easy, loping grace of Joe DiMaggio; and because he's more of a veteran than Mays, he has better knowledge of the league's hitters.
Most significantly, perhaps, Snider's response, to the Mays mania is a sign that he has finally achieved the full quota of self-confidence and competitive drive he has heretofore been accused of lacking. This season he may achieve at least two, and perhaps all three, of his objectives.
These are, in order of importance to him, collecting 200 hits or more (he's had 199 twice and 198 once); winning the batting championship; and taking the runs-batted-in title. He also might well be the home run champion. Only six players in major league history—most recently Ted Williams in 1942 and 1947 and Joe Medwick in 1937—have won the so-called triple crown: tops in batting, runs-batted-in and homers in a single year.
As of now, occupying the top half of baseball's biggest one-two punch—the rejuvenated Roy Campanella is the other half—Snider is off-and-bat-ting. His solid .321 last week made him the league's fifth man in the averages; he already had 69 hits, including 20 home runs, and was leading teammate Campanella with 63 to 58 for most runs batted in.
A left-handed power slugger with a big, sweeping swing, Snider has never done as well against southpaws as against right-handers. As of the end of 1954, he had gone to bat 3,729 times as a National Leaguer and had hit only .264 against left-handers while batting .319 against righties (he had seen the latter four times as often). But in 1954 for the first time he hit over .300 against portsiders, collecting 20 hits in 65 at bats for .308; this year, to date, he's hitting .375, third best on the club and at one point had six straight blows, including a home run, against them. Like some other great free-swinging sluggers, Snider has always struck out a lot, and he admits that he doesn't ever expect to average less than 75 to 85 whiffs per season.
Such statistics tell more about Snider the man than the usual set of figures does about a ballplayer. They point up, chiefly, that he has learned to relax, let the bad pitches go by and not worry as much as he once did about a brief slump or even a bad day.
Snider's roommate and closest friend on the Dodgers, stylish Pitcher Carl Erskine, says of him, "He has got to know himself better than anybody else possibly can. The moody spells have disappeared. Maybe they used to affect his fielding and base-running too, but now if he doesn't beat you at bat he'll do it with a great catch or with some heady work on the paths." Snider often takes tips on a brief batting lapse from Erskine and other continued on page 4-8 pitchers; he believes they see things a hitter is doing wrong that other batters miss.