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The Duke of Flatbush was convicted of tax evasion in 1995, and sentenced to two years probation and a five thousand dollar fine. As part of a plea bargain, Snider admitted to hiding up to $100,000 of income he earned signing autographs and crisscrossing the country, making personal appearances in the red-hot sports memorabilia circuit. In addition to the fine, Snider paid more than fifty thousand dollars in back taxes and penalties.
In a written statement Snider submitted to the court, he expressed concern that “my conduct may have in some way tarnished the game” that had been “very good to me,” and “hope that my fans, especially those in Brooklyn, can accept my apology.”
Duke Snider had good reason to fret about his reputation. After decades of being a beloved Dodgers legend, Snider found himself before the judicial system, being branded as a federal-level cheat. At the time of his conviction, the L.A. Times ran an article referring to Snider as “The Duke of Greed”. However, I didn’t see things so black-and-white. While I’m not saying I endorse hiding income from the government, I am saying I can understand the man’s motivations.
Snider was one of “The Boys of Summer”. He was a legend among legends. But he played in an era the owners were the only rich men in the game. Back in his day, even some starters had to keep an offseason job just to make ends meet. Snider lived long enough to see even journeyman ballplayers being paid millions.
Duke Snider was in his 60’s when the sports memorabilia industry kicked into high gear, and his name was instant money. This was his chance to cash in big time, and he probably figured he was due. This was his payday, and what was the harm in not declaring a few thou here and there? What he didn’t figure on was Uncle Sam noticing the booming autographed ball business, and making sure the tax man got his cut.
Snider wasn’t alone in his legal troubles back then, and he wasn’t alone today either. A former San Francisco Giant, Willie McCovey, who was also snared in the federal government’s tax-evasion nets, was pardoned by the president as well. For once, Dodgers and Giants fans have something to cheer about on the same day.
The Duke of Tax Evasion has now returned to just being the Duke of Flatbush. It’s just too bad it had to finally happen five years after his death.