(Baltimore Sun file photo )
He's the forgotten Oriole, one who helped the club soar in 1966 and then fell off the radar. Brooks, Frank and Boog were stars in that championship season. But who remembers Russ Snyder?
"I had a pretty good year, too," said Snyder, 79.
Did he ever.
A slap-hitting, sharp-fielding outfielder, Snyder batted .306 for the World Series champion Orioles that year. He led the American League in hitting (.347) at the All-Star break.
His glove served the team down the stretch. On Sept. 22, in a victory over Kansas City, Snyder's diving catch of a line drive finished off the Athletics and clinched the Orioles' first pennant. And in the World Series opener in Los Angeles — a 5-2 victory — he scored the game's first run, singled in another and saved two Dodgers' runs in the second inning with a dramatic lunging catch of John Roseboro's sinking liner.
Forty-seven years later, Snyder recalled his desperation in running down that shot in center field.
"When the ball was hit, I just took off," he said from his home in Nelson, Neb. "The closer I got, the more I thought I could catch it. I dove and … well, that really was one of the turning points of the Series."
Snyder started two games in the Orioles' sweep of the Dodgers. After Game 4, amid the beer-soaked hoopla in the clubhouse, he scrawled a back-to-earth message on the blackboard: Everybody due in uniform March 1.
"What great times those were," said Snyder, who played for the Orioles from 1961 through 1967. "We were one happy family. Boog [Powell] was a big teddy bear; I never once saw him mad. Frank [Robinson] had a great attitude. And Brooks [Robinson] — well, I never saw a guy who was as neat off the field as he was on it.
"Our kids all played together. Our wives were friends. We spent our off days together. Nobody was left out, during games or after. That's why we won as much as we did."
Quiet and self-effacing, Snyder hit .280 in seven years with the Orioles and accepted his role as a platoon player, though he managed to see plenty of action. In 1962, he led the club in batting (.305), beat out 12 bunts for base hits and, in one game, scored from second base on a sacrifice fly.
Of Snyder, manager Hank Bauer once said: "Nobody notices him until he beats their brains out."
That was OK with the modest Nebraskan.
"I was pencilled in as a reserve, but it didn't bother me," he said. "I didn't need press clippings. I'm just proud that when I got the opportunity to play, I showed them that I could do the job."
He retired in 1970, returned home, bought a bar and built a steakhouse beside it. He painted an infield on the dance floor, baselines included, and filled the place with his baseball treasures. Twelve years later, the building was struck by lightning and burned to the ground.
"I still have a few keepsakes, like the picture of my World Series catch against Roseboro," Snyder said. "And one of me and [catcher] Charlie Lau, pouring champagne on each other after we won the pennant."
Having won the Series, the Orioles captured the city's heart.
"Every Sunday, Charlie and I would take a couple of autographed baseballs to one restaurant and they'd give us a couple of dozen crabs," he said. "What could be better?"
An avid outdoorsman, Snyder also worked for the government as a soil conservation technician, constructing terraces and dams for erosion-plagued farms.
Married 47 years to his high school sweetheart, Snyder lost his wife, Ann, to cancer in 2002. He lives alone but not far from his three children, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
"I had a slight stroke last year, but they put in a pacemaker and I'm getting along real good," he said.
He spends much of his time tending his vegetable garden, growing tomatoes, cucumbers and asparagus for family and neighbors.
"It's been a good life," Snyder said. And while he may be a footnote in Baltimore's memory, he said: "I'm the only one in Nelson [population: 400] with a World Series ring."