Born in Los Angeles, Snider was nicknamed "Duke" by his father at age five. Growing up in Southern California, Snider was a gifted all-around athlete, playing basketball, football, and baseball at Compton High School, class of 1944. He was a strong-armed quarterback, who reportedly could throw the football 70 yards. Spotted by one of Branch Rickey's scouts in the early 1940s, he was signed to a baseball contract out of high school in 1943. He played briefly for the Montreal Royals of the International League in 1944 (batting twice) and for the Newport News Dodgers in the Piedmont League in the same year. After serving in the military in 1945, he came back to play for the Fort Worth Cats in 1946 and for St. Paul in 1947. He played well and earned a tryout with the Brooklyn Dodgers later that year. He started the next season (1948) with Montreal, and after hitting well in that league with a .327 batting average, he was called up to Brooklyn for good during the middle of the season.
In 1950 he hit .321. But when his average slipped to .277 in 1951, off 44 points from his previous mark, Snider caught the brunt of the sports‑page blame when the Dodgers squandered a 13‑game August lead and finished second to the Giants after Bobby Thomson's "Shot Heard 'Round the World". Snider recalls "I went to Walter O’Malley and told him I couldn’t take the pressure,” Duke says. “I told him I’d just as soon be traded. I told him I figured I could do the Dodgers no good.” Of course the trade did not happen.
Snider in 1954.
Usually batting third in the line-up, Snider established some impressive offensive numbers: he hit 40 or more home runs in five consecutive seasons (1953–57), and between 1953-1956 averaged 42 home runs, 124 RBI, 123 runs, and a .320 batting average. He led the National league in runs scored, home runs, and RBIs in separate seasons, and appeared in six post-seasons with the Dodgers (1949, 1952–53, 1955–56, 1959), facing the New York Yankees in the first five and the Chicago White Sox in the last. The Dodgers won the World Series in 1955 and in 1959.
Snider's career numbers declined when the team moved to Los Angeles in 1958. Coupled with an aching knee and a 440-foot right field fence at the cavernous Coliseum, Snider hit only 15 home runs in 1958. However, he had one last hurrah in 1959 as he helped the Dodgers win their first World Series in Los Angeles. Duke rebounded that year to hit .308 with 23 home runs and 88 RBI in 400 at bats while sharing fielding duties in right and center fields with Don Demeter and rookie Ron Fairly. Injuries and age would eventually play a role in reducing Snider to part-time status by 1961.
In 1962 when the Dodgers led the NL for most of the season (only to find themselves tied with the hated Giants at the season's end) it was Snider and third-base coach Leo Durocher who reportedly pleaded with Manager Walter Alston to bring in future Hall of Fame pitcher (and Cy Young award winner that year), Don Drysdale, in the ninth inning of the third and deciding play-off game. Instead Alston brought in Stan Williams to relieve a tiring Eddie Roebuck. A 4-2 lead turned into a 6-4 loss as the Giants rallied to win the pennant. Snider subsequently was sold to the New York Mets. It is said that Drysdale, his roommate, broke down and cried when he got the news of Snider's departure.
When Snider joined the Mets, he discovered that his familiar number 4 was being worn by Charlie Neal, who refused to give it up. So Snider wore number 11 during the first half of the season, then switched back to 4 after Neal was traded. He proved to be a sentimental favorite among former Dodger fans who now rooted for the Mets. But after one season, Snider asked to be traded to a contending team.
Snider was sold to the San Francisco Giants on Opening Day in 1964. Knowing that he had no chance of wearing number 4, which had been worn by Mel Ott and retired by the Giants, Snider took number 28. He retired at the end of that season.
In Snider's 18-year career he batted .295 with 407 home runs and 1,333 RBI in 2,143 games.
1955 Most Valuable Player balloting controversy
Snider finished second to teammate Roy Campanella in the 1955 Most Valuable Player balloting conducted by the Baseball Writers Association of America by just five points, 226-221, with each man receiving eight first place votes. A widely believed story, summarized in an article by columnist Tracy Ringolsby, holds that a hospitalized writer from Philadelphia had turned in a ballot with Campanella listed as his first place and fifth place vote. It was assumed that the writer had meant to write Snider's name into one of those slots. Unable to get a clarification from the ill writer, the BBWAA, after considering disallowing the ballot, decided to accept it, count the first place vote for Campanella and count the fifth place vote as though it were left blank. Had the ballot been disallowed the vote would have been won by Snider 221-212. Had Snider gotten that now-blank fifth place vote, the final vote would have favored Snider 227-226.
Investigative reporting by Joe Posnanski, however, has suggested that this story is not entirely true. Instead, Posnanski writes that there was a writer who did leave Snider off his ballot and write in Campanella's name twice, but it was in first and sixth positions, not first and fifth. Had Snider received the sixth place vote, the final tally would have created a tie, not a win for Snider. Additionally, the position was not discarded—everyone lower on the ballot was moved up a spot and the writer, and pitcher Jack Meyer was inserted at the bottom with a 10th place vote.
Snider did, however, win the Sporting News National League Player of the Year Award for 1955, and the Sid Mercer Award, emblematic of his selection by the New York branch of the BBWAA as the National League's best player of 1955.
Following his retirement from baseball, Snider went on to become a popular and respected TV/radio analyst and play-by-play announcer for the San Diego Padres from 1969 to 1971 and for the Montreal Expos from 1973 to 1986, characterized by his mellow, low-key style.
Snider occasionally took acting roles, sometimes appearing in television or films as himself or as a professional baseball player. He played himself in "Hero Father" (1956) in the Robert Young television series "Father Knows Best" and made one guest appearance on the Chuck Connors television series "The Rifleman", playing Wallace in "The Retired Gun" (1959). Other appearances include an uncredited part as a Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder in "The Geisha Boy" (1958), the Cranker in "The Trouble with Girls" (1969), and a Steamer Fan in "Pastime" (1990). As recently as 2007, he was featured in "Brooklyn Dodgers: The Ghosts of Flatbush."
In 1995 Snider pleaded guilty to federal tax fraud charges. According to the charges, he had failed to report income from sports card shows and memorabilia sales.