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March 1, 2011

Wezen-Ball

Duke and the Charlie Brown Coefficient

by Larry Granillo

With Duke Snider's passing this weekend, there's been a lot of discussion of the three great New York centerfielders of the 1950s - the famous "Willie, Mickey, and the Duke" trio. And with good cause: Snider was a great player who, for better or worse, will always be tied to those two all-time greats. The fact that he wasn't the equal of Mays or Mantle is no blemish on his fine career.

There is at least one other metric that we can use to compare the three centerfielders that I think many have neglected. We'll call it the "Charlie Brown Coefficient."

As you recall, the Peanuts comic strip was published daily from October 1950 until February 2000. In that time, nearly 18,000 strips were drawn, with a full 10% featuring baseball in some way. The height of the strip - and of its baseball fandom - came in the 1960s, though the late-1950s and early-1970s saw their fair share of top-notch strips. That also happened to be the era of Willie, Mickey, and the Duke. How often, then, were each of the three centerfielders mentioned by Charlie Brown and friends?

Duke Snider appears in the strip only twice. His first mention came on July 2, 1955, when he was at the top of his game and when Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle were just coming into their own. Charlie Brown is sitting at the piano with Schroeder, who seems to be torn about his favorite composer: sometimes it's Beethoven, sometimes it's Brahms. Charlie Brown turns to him: "I know EXACTLYwhat you mean, Schroeder. I feel the same about Willie Mays and Duke Snider!" (See the strip.)

Fitting that the first Snider mention would come through an explicit reference to the rivalry between the centerfielders. Snider's name is only mentioned in passing the second time, as Charlie Brown tries to trade his entire baseball card collection to Lucy for a single Joe Shlabotnik card. (See the strip.)

Charlie Brown also offers Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle cards for the Joe Shlatbotnik in that August 1963 strip. There are three more strips that have both Mantle and Mays mentioned. The best is probably from October 1966, when Charlie Brown explains how he remembers his locker combination. The combination is 3-24-7... you can probably figure the rest out. (See the strip.)

There is only one strip where Mantle is mentioned alone. On July 7, 1964, Linus reads about Mickey Mantle's tape measure home runs in the newspaper and asks Charlie Brown if they might need a tape measure themselves. "Our hits can be measured quite adequately with an eighteen-inch ruler!" (See the strip.)

As you may have guessed, Willie Mays wins the "Charlie Brown Coefficient" quite handily. Not only was Mays the best of the three centerfielders (and with the longest career), but Mays also happened to play for the San Francisco Giants. With Charles Schulz writing from northern California, the Giants came to be Charlie Brown's unofficial favorite team (just see this strip where Charlie Brown laments the end of the 1962 World Series).

All-in-all, Mays was featured in four strips alone. I suppose it sounds like a small number (I admit I was expecting a bigger total), but, considering just how rare it was for the Peanuts gang to go outside their own world, it shouldn't be too big of a surprise.

The best Mays strip, though, may quite possibly be my single favorite Peanuts strip from it's entire fifty-year run. In 1966, Charlie Brown is competing in a spelling bee and doing better than he imagined. As he stands at the front of the class, he is given his word to spell: MAZE. "Yes, ma'am, that's an easy one... M-A-Y-S.... aaugh!" (See the strip.)

I am about 30 years too young to have witnessed "Willie, Mickey, and the Duke" at their height. I feel grateful, then, that I am able to get even a little taste of that through old Peanuts comic strips. And, now, as we celebrate Duke Snider's life, I hope I was able to help anyone else in the same boat feel it as well.

Related Content:  Mickey Mantle,  Charlie Brown,  Willie Mays

7 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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BP staff member Steven Goldman
BP staff

And there were about three Casey Stengel mentions, right?

Mar 01, 2011 02:05 AM
 
BP staff member Larry Granillo
BP staff

Good question, Steve. Stengel is actually mentioned in six different strips, and all of them by himself. Charlie Brown's experience on the field is mostly as a manager, though, so his association with Stengel makes sense. Plus, "Casey Stengel" is kind of a funny name to say and he was still in the news in a big way when Peanuts was at its peak...

There's also a stray mention of Billy Martin in the series... maybe I should catalog all the names mentioned?

Mar 01, 2011 10:27 AM
 
Ira

I think my favorite Peanuts Baseball player reference was this one: http://www.gocomics.com/peanuts/1962/12/22
Willie McCovey

Mar 01, 2011 05:55 AM
rating: 0
 
jhardman

I'm really enjoying the Wezen-Ball articles! A fun article down the road might be about the speculation of who Joe Shlabotnik really represented. I've had a rotisserie/fantasy team for 20 years now called "Sons of Shlabotnik" that was a reprise of an old softball team from the '80's, and it's fun to talk to fans from that era who used to love these Peanuts baseball strips. Thanks!

Mar 01, 2011 08:44 AM
rating: 3
 
BP staff member Larry Granillo
BP staff

Thanks!

My guess is Shlabotnik represents no one in particular... he's just someone with a funny name that Charlie Brown, the perennial loser, would feel a kinship with.

But, who knows, maybe if we search the minor league rolls well enough, we'll find someone with a .004 batting average for Stumptown in the Green Grass League! That'd be awesome.

Mar 01, 2011 10:28 AM
 
devine

That's a great idea - who WAS Joe Shlabotnik.

Of course, there are probably hundreds of candidates...

Mar 01, 2011 08:49 AM
rating: 0
 
elm
(41)

My young adult years were during the heyday of the "Trinity" at SS while my father was a kid in the 60s. He never stopped talking about how Arod, Jeter, and Nomar couldn't measure up to Willie, Micky, and the Duke. Given that Nomar's career flamed out a little early so we won't get 3 HOFers from them, I'm willing to concede that the 3 CF'ers were better than the 3 SS's, but I wonder how both threesomes stack up against the best trios of all time.

Mar 01, 2011 20:14 PM
rating: 0
 
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