When you sort the Career WAR leaderboards here on FanGraphs, you won’t find Duke Snider on the first page. You won’t even find him on the second page. Instead, you have to click all the way to Page 3, where he’s sandwiched right between Graig Nettles and Ed Delahanty, two guys who were never immortalized in song. For a more contemporary example, Snider has essentially the same career WAR as Scott Rolen, who is not held in nearly the same regard by his peers The Duke is.
Snider is one of the guys whose greatness can’t be summed up by looking at his career numbers. To some degree, he is the classic example of why guys with a lot of value at their peak are often remembered more fondly than their career WAR would have you suggest. And rightfully so.
Snider’s career WAR of +71.7 is good, and certainly Hall-Of-Fame worthy, but it’s not the kind of mark you see from other inner-circle type guys. However, he did almost all of his damage in a very short period of time. From 1949 to 1957, he accumulated +62.1 of his +71.7 WAR. That nine year stretch accounts for only half of his career, but 87% of his WAR total was accumulated during that time frame. We can actually drill down even further and pinpoint Snider’s real peak, which was from 1953 to 1956 – in those four years, he accumulated a ridiculous +35.8 WAR, or almost exactly half his career total. In four years.
When you start to look at the other names of players who have had similar four year stretches of extreme greatness, it becomes easy to see why Snider is held in such high regard.
Willie Mays had a stretch like this. So did Mickey Mantle. Babe Ruth. Hank Aaron. Honus Wagner. Barry Bonds. Stan Musial. Ted Williams. Jackie Robinson. Joe Morgan. Jimmie Foxx. Alex Rodriguez. Ken Griffey Jr. Joe DiMaggio. Carl Yastrzemski. Eddie Collins. Lou Gehrig. Eddie Matthews. Tris Speaker. Mike Schmidt. Rogers Hornsby. Ernie Banks. Ron Santo. Ty Cobb. Wade Boggs. Albert Pujols.
After that, it gets tough to find other guys who were as good as Snider over a four year stretch. Other guys had longer sustained greatness, or put together a bunch of great years with some less impressive ones in between, but the list of guys who had a four year peak at the same level of Snider’s prime is essentially a who’s-who of the greatest players of all time. There’s a reason that guys like Sandy Koufax and Pedro Martinez come up in the discussion of the best pitchers ever, but Nolan Ryan does not. Longevity is neat, but what we really remember are those special runs when one player is just better than everyone else at playing the game for a few years.
Snider had one of those runs. And that’s why he’s rightfully considered one of the greatest to ever play the game.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.