Duke Snider fans woke to bad news today. The former Brooklyn Dodger passed away this weekend at 84 after a long illness. But the man who put the spotlight on what happens to great players long after they've gone out of the game will never be forgotten.
His autograph is up for major money on eBay today -- bats and cards priced at close to $10,000. They're doing so well, you probably don't even remember the hall of famer had a little tussle with the federal government back in the '90s over memorabilia. No?
Well, almost flat broke, Snider had flooded the market with his signature just to make a little bank. But when he failed to report $110,000 of that bank to the feds, they got a little cranky.
Fair enough. Snider cooperated. He pleaded guilty, took his two-year probation, and paid his fines. In the end, people are so happy to get a hold of one of his autographs that they don't care about the scandal. They're still paying today for his name.
The story always stood out to me as a particular travesty. Here Snider was, a Hall of Famer, one of the greatest men to play the game, an eight-time all star, a guy who played in the World Series six times and won two titles. If you want to prove his worth to the game, look no further than the events where he showed up, where people clamored for his scribble on their bit of memorabilia.
He was a vital piece of the game, and his name still meant something to Major League Baseball. But he was broke. Part of it was bad judgment, but face facts: players didn't make a lot when he came up. In fact, back in 1955, a story in The Sport Gallery made big of the fact that Snider would likely be the first Dodger to take home $60,000 a year. By the time Snider retired, he didn't have much in savings, and he made some bad business deals along the way. Major League Baseball has done a fair share better than other leagues at taking care of its retirees; Snider's case always stood out to me as a sad example of how often our favorite athletes wallow after they leave the game.
Maybe they've taken too many blows to the head and can't physically keep up -- like an increasing number of football players. Maybe they had so much money thrown at them so young with no guidance on not frittering it away. But years, even decades, later, the leagues are still benefiting. Because many, like Snider, remain valuable commodities, drawing crowds to Cooperstown and the Baseball Hall of Fame and to baseball card conventions. It's those autographs and bits of memorabilia that remind us the retirees may be gone but they're not forgotten.
I'm sad Snider fell on hard times, but in an ironic twist of fate, his decision to go out on the autograph circuit to build a safety net also helped build his legacy. Ebbets Field is gone, the Dodgers are now in Los Angeles, but as long as there's demand for a bat signed by Duke Snider, he will always be a part of the game.
Were you a Snider fan?
Image via ewen and donabel/Flickr