The Snyder Case

While I am a lawyer by trade and a baseball writer by force of passion, if I could choose one job out of any in the world to have, it would be private investigator. No, not a real one like the guy who found out that your uncle was cheating on your aunt or the one who took video of you snowboarding while you pretended to be out of work on a disability claim. That’s boring. I’m thinking more along the lines of Lew Archer or Darryl Zero or the Continental Op. A loner of a guy whose quick, sarcastic, and cynical jibes mask a romantic soul that has been battered by the harsh realization that corruption exists in all levels of society.

Oh, and scotch and dames too. Gotta have scotch and dames.

Unfortunately, I have yet to come across the right opportunity in that particular field, so I will have to make do with small, pro bono cases until some wealthy heiress goes missing or some shady businessman asks me to help him find the person who is blackmailing him. Thankfully, such opportunities are not that hard to find. Got one just last night, in fact, from reader Levi Stahl. Levi works in publishing (and has a most excellent book blog, by the way), and as such, reads an awful lot of stuff. He’s also a big baseball fan, so when books and baseball get together, he is a happy guy. Unfortunately, books and baseball have combined to stump him — in a detective novel, no less — and he needs our help:

I’ve been stumped by a question that marries my two biggest interests: baseball and literature. I’m reading Rex Stout’s Fer-de-Lance, which was the first mystery he wrote about Nero Wolfe (who would go on to star in 43 novels, a radio show — wherein he was played by the incomparable Sydney Greenstreet — and a couple of television shows), and at one point Archie Goodwin, Wolfe’s primary operative, writes, appropos of being astonished anew by the beauty of Wolfe’s orchid collection, “It was like other things I’ve noticed, for instance no matter how often you may have seen Snyder leap in the air and one-handed spear a hot liner like one streak of lightning stopping another one, when you see it again your heart stops.”

I love that metaphor–“like one streak of lightning stopping another one”–and at first I thought, “Oh, he’s talking about Duke Snider.” Only, the spelling is wrong . . . and the novel was published in 1934. So off to Baseball-Reference I went . . . and I don’t find any Snyders who would seem to be right. Any ideas at all whom Stout might have had in mind? I’m willing to believe that misspelling was involved, if necessary, but I’ve not come up with an answer so far.

So I ask you, ShysterBall readers: let’s put on our dashing black fedoras, light up a Chesterfield, take a slug of courage from our office bottles, and help Levi solve his case. Let’s bring in this Snyder fella. If you have to jam a roscoe in his button to do it, hey, that’s jake.

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15 years ago

It’s got to be a reference to Jo-Jo Moore, centerfielder for the Giants in the mid-30’s.

The Yankees had Ben Chapman, and the Dodgers didn’t have anyone noteworthy.

That’s my guess.

Scott Simkus
15 years ago

Didn’t the late talk show host, chain-smoking Tom Snyder play a little Class D ball during the depression?  Honestly, Stout had spent a number of years living in Europe prior to publishing the novel and my gut feeling is Snyder is merely an amalgam. I even gave the SABR minor league database a quick glance, on the off chance there had been a Snyder on some obscure bush league team in a town where Stout had grown up.

Jason @ IIATMS
15 years ago

There was a Frank Snyder on the Giants in the 20’s, but he appears to have been mostly a C, so spearing lightning might not have been his forte.

The Common Man
15 years ago

And I’m not convinced this is a CF.  “Leaping…to spear a hot liner like one streak of lightning stopping another one” sounds like an IF to me.  Going on the assumption it’s a NY infielder from the 20s or early 30s, I looked at Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Lineups.  It could be Travis Jackson, Freddie Lindstrom, or Hughie Critz of the Giants.  Tony Lazzeri, Frank Crossetti, and Joe Sewell were all playing for the Yanks during that period; and if we go back a little, we can include Lyn Lary and Joe Dugan.  The Dodgers were never really set at any one position during any length of time, though it could be Tony Cuccinello, Glenn Wright, or Wally Gilbert.  So there you have a list of suspects.  Can we exclude any based on defensive reputation?  Also, I neglected to include 1B (Gehrig and Terry), is that a fair assumption?

15 years ago

I think it’s got to be a SS or 3B.  The right side of the infield may see a lightning strike or two, but the phrasing makes it seem like this is a much more routine (yet still sublime) event.

15 years ago

There is a guy named Bernie Snyder who was a middle infielder for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1935. Unfortunately, there is no record of him playing any other professional baseball besides that single season.

15 years ago

Don’t have a clue about Snyder, but thanks for the tip on the literature blog. It’s great!

The Common Man
15 years ago

The more I think about it, the more I think that, if Stout were actually writing with a real ballplayer in mind, he had to have been writing about Travis Jackson.  Jackson played SS (and a little 3B) for the Giants from ‘23-‘36.  He was generally regarded as an excellent fielder and according to James’ New Historical Abstract was very popular (“Hack Wilson ‘was as popular i Brooklyn as any visiting ball player could be-always excepting Mel Ott and Travis Jackson, who were unbelievably popular, consdering the fact that tehy were Giants.’”)  And in 1934, when the book was published, Jackson was in the middle of a short resurgence that saw him finish 4th in the MVP voting.

The Common Man
15 years ago

@ Petr

Thanks for finding that picture.  I used to be the clubhouse manager at Bowman Field (which is still in operation), and am excited to see the rest of the book.

Levi Stahl
15 years ago

You guys are fantastic. Thanks, Craig, and thanks to everyone who put forth ideas. I think The Common Man’s guess seems the most likely—wonder why Stout would have changed the name?