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As the days grow longer and and I am counting the hours until I head for spring training on March 10 visiting primarily the Orioles in Sarasota and the Rays down the road in Port Charlotte, it is time to check in with some thoughts on the baseball scene as MLB Opening Day is less than a month away.

The passing of DUKE SNIDER brought back a wave of nostalgia among New Yorkers who remember the Golden Age of New York City Baseball in the 1950s when “Willie, Mickey and The Duke” roamed center field for the Giants, Yankees and Dodgers. Though Edwin “Duke” Snider had far less territory to cover in Ebbets Field than Mays and Mantle patrolled at the cavernous Polo Grounds and Yankee Stadium, he was their peer defensively and offensively. In non-steroidal times he hit 407 career home runs with a .295 lifetime BA and impressive lifetime .540 slugging average. For a power hitter his walk-strikeout ratio was quite manageable: 971:1237.

(BTW, while on the subject of BB-SO ratio, check out the stats of Snider's teammate Jim "Junior" Gilliam, the man who forced Jackie Robinson to third base. Though Gilliam played most of his career in LA, he retired with a remarkable BB-SO ratio: 1036:416.)

Snider did have the advantage of being a left-handed power hitter in a lineup loaded with such right-handed hitters as Reese, Robinson, Campanella, Hodges, Furillo and Cox. And like all of us he did have his blemishes – he could be moody and petulant and his refusal to bunt one time in his early days as a Dodger prompted a swift banishment to Montreal. In later life he and San Francisco Giant legend Willie McCovey ignored warnings that they must report their memorabilia income to the IRS. Their carelessness led to significant fines though no jail time.

Yet he was a genuine Hall of Famer, elected in 1980, and passes away as the last of the legendary Boys of Summer regulars, a key part of five pennant winners from 1949-1956. And a man who thanked his lucky stars that he was part of a great Dodger organization. He once told documentarian Marino Ameruso that just coming to Vero Beach in Dodger spring training and feeling a part of the team was his greatest thrill in baseball.

ANDY JURINKO also died last month on Valentine’s Day at age 71 after a heroic battle against pancreatic cancer. I got to know this excellent painter of baseball stadiums and baseball players during his last years. He was marvelously witty as well as supremely talented.

Raised near Easton, Pa. in Phillipsburg, NJ, Andy went to art school in Philadelphia after service in the military. A long-time fan of the Phillies, once they became the fat cats of the NL he switched to the Mets in a lovely example of his support of the underdog.

Jurinko also enjoyed an impressive career as an artist of pop culture on the “Downtown” scene of Greenwich Village, SoHo (south of Houston Street – pronounced “Houseton” In NYC and not “Huston”) and Tribeca (triangle below Canal Street.)

There was a heart-warming and heart-rending memorial service for Andy in Greenwich Village on Sat morning Feb 28. The art, baseball and his neighborhood communities poured out to express their love for a special man who survived the 9/11 bombings though he and his wife Pat Moore had to relocate for nearly a year because they lived in the literal shadow of the Twin Towers.

I will never celebrate Valentine’s Day again without lifting a glass in memory of a great talent and finer man. “Golden Days,” a book of paintings about his heroes of the 1946-1960 period, will be published posthumously this fall.

Is there anything more ridiculous than the listing of “Leaders” after ONE GAME of spring training exhibitions? (Yes, Virginia, to me they are exhibitions not “pre-season” games.) I am happy for Oriole Nolan Reimold that he leads baseball with a 1,000 BA after hitting a HR and drawing three walks in his first game but somehow I don’t think that will last. I will be satisfied as an Oriole fan with a slow decline to a near .300 average with solid run production.

Thanks for your time this time until the next time in Florida, remember: Take it easy but take it!
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