Obituary: Jim Snyder (1932-2021)

RIP to Jim Snyder, who spent more than six decades in baseball, from the field as a second baseman to the dugout as a manager to the front office as a player development director. He died on March 9 in Lutz, Fla., at the age of 88. He was living nearby in Odessa at the time of his death. Snyder played for the Minnesota Twins from 1961-62 and again in 1964, and he served as an interim manager for the Seattle Mariners in 1988.

James Robert Snyder was born in Dearborn, Mich., on August 15, 1932. A second baseman since little league, Snyder attended Fordson High School in Dearborn and eventually got a master’s degree in education at Eastern Michigan University. It took him eight offseasons to do it, too. He signed with the St. Louis Browns and began his professional career in 1952. While he attended college in the offseasons, the 6’1″ Snyder also played on a traveling All-Star basketball team in Michigan.

It took Snyder a decade of playing in the minors before he reached the major leagues. He was a well-traveled minor-leaguer, too, frequently playing on two or three different teams in a single season. He spent 1952 and 1953 as a Brown in the low-minors in Pine Bluff, Ark., and York, Pa. The teenaged infielder wasn’t much of a hitter at first, hitting around .230 each season. He almost quit the game entirely before the 1953 season, and it took his parents and the scout who signed him, Sherm Williams, to talk him into sticking it out.

When the Browns moved to Baltimore to become the Orioles in 1954, Snyder moved to the AA San Antonio Missions and batted .233 with 2 home runs. He was a good defender at second base, with a special knack for turning double plays, and that ability kept him in the starting lineup. Starting in 1955, Snyder became a baseball nomad. He played for San Antonio, Albany and Wichita that year and then Memphis, San Antonio and Columbus in ’56. Then it was two teams a season from 1957, 1958 and 1960. The only time he was able to stay in one place came in 1959, when he spent the entire year with the Indianapolis Indians of the American Association. By then, he was a part of the Chicago White Sox organization. While he was on the move all those years, he had also played for teams that belonged to the Cubs, Phillies and White Sox. As minor-league transactions are frequently difficult to track, it’s hard to tell if he was on loan from the Orioles or had his contract officially acquired. Baseball Reference notes that Snyder was traded from Philadelphia to Chicago in a trade for Bobby Winkles in July 1958. Snyder hit .277 for Indianapolis, which was the highest single-season mark of his career to date.

Source: Indianapolis News, September 14, 1961.

Indianapolis and the White Sox ended their affiliation in 1960, and Snyder was assigned to San Diego of the Pacific Coast League. He was late in reporting and barely played after he showed up, and Indianapolis was in need of a good second baseman. So the team bought his contract from the Sox and made him their second baseman once again. Snyder responded well to the move and hit .298 in 68 games with Indianapolis. His average dipped to .252 in 1961, but he did hit a career-best 4 home runs and drove in 34 runs.

Snyder’s play at second base caught the eye of Minnesota Twins president Calvin Griffith. After some negotiations with Indianapolis, the Twins acquired his contract on September 13, 1961. “He’ll be one of the best in the majors on the double play,” predicted Twins scout Del Wilber, who had been watching the second baseman.

Snyder didn’t get much of a chance to play with the Twins, as he appeared in 3 games and was hitless in 5 at-bats. He had 7 successful chances in 13 innings at second base and turned a double play. While it was a brief audition, Twins manager Sam Mele went into the offseason considering Snyder for a job as the team’s starting second baseman in 1962.

The rookie who claimed the second base job was Bernie Allen, not Snyder. Allen ended up finishing third in the Rookie of the Year vote. Snyder made the Twins out of spring training but was used as a pinch-runner and defensive replacement. He started three games while Allen was out with a cold, and he picked up his first major-league hit against the Baltimore Orioles on April 26. He hit an RBI single off starter Hal Brown to drive in Bob Allison for the Twins’ third run of the game. They won by a final score of 3-2. Snyder was sent to the minors in mid-May with 1 hit in 10 at-bats over 12 games. Manager Mele loved his hustle, but Snyder was the odd man out on the roster. He requested as he was demoted to go to in the American Association or the International League. “I have a wife and two kids to transport,” he explained. Minnesota sent him to Vancouver of the Pacific Coast League anyway.

Source: Minneapolis Star, June 29, 1964.

Snyder played for the Dallas-Fort Worth Rangers in 1963 and started 1964 with the Atlanta Crackers after again being talked out of retirement, this time by Twins farm director Sherry Robertson and scout Billy Martin. He was the lone bright spot in the Cracker infield when he was brought back to the majors in time to face the White Sox on June 28. He cracked a 2-run double in his first at-bat and added an RBI single in the Twins 9-3 win. “It was one of the greatest thrills of my life,” Snyder told Atlanta Constitution writer Hal Hayes, referring to the double. “I got good wood on it, just luckily, I guess.”

Snyder was one of a group of players all brought to the Twins in short order, as the team tried a mid-season roster turnover to no great success. Second base was especially problematic, as Allen was injured and ineffective, and Jerry Kindall, acquired via trade, didn’t hit either. Snyder was given every opportunity to show how he could do with regular playing time. After a couple of hitless games, he went on a 7-game hitting streak — getting exactly 7 hits in the games between July 1 and July 9 — to put his batting average at .265. He also hit his first career home run on July 15 against the Senators, coming off starter Don Rudolph. Unfortunately, that was his last hit in the major leagues. After going hitless in his next 8 games, he was returned to the minor leagues in early August, with a .155 average in 26 games with the Twins. Despite the short stay on the active roster, Snyder still finished 5th in the American League with 11 sacrifice hits. After one more season in the Washington organization, he retired for good as a player.

In parts of three seasons, Snyder played in a total of 41 games with the Twins, with a .140/.185/.198 slash line. He had 12 hits in 86 at-bats, with 2 doubles and a home run. He drove in 10 runs and scored 4 times. He also had a .984 fielding percentage at second base and turned 20 double plays in 243 innings. In 14 seasons in the minors, Snyder played on 14 different clubs and batted .249.

Snyder had talked about going to Michigan for a teaching job after leaving baseball. Immediately after retiring as a player, he became a teacher of a different sort — he was named manager of the Sioux Falls Packers, a low-A team in the Cincinnati Reds organization. He worked as a schoolteacher as well, but he saved that job for the offseason. Snyder managed Reds teams until 1976, culminating with the Indianapolis Indians, where he had some of his best seasons as a player. The Indians finished in third place, and he was fired after the season. In his 11 seasons with teams in the Reds organization, he had seven winning campaigns and won two pennants.

Snyder, when he was named manager of the Indianapolis Indians in 1976. Source: The Indianapolis Star, February 6, 1976.

Snyder was quickly hired by the Phillies and managed in their system from 1977 to 1981. Every season was an above-.500 team, and the Class-A Peninsula Pilots won the Carolina League pennant twice, in 1977 and ’78, under his guidance. He was the manager of the AAA Oklahoma City 89ers in 1981, a team that included prospects Bob Dernier and Ryne Sandberg. The man who hired him in Philadelphia, Dallas Green, moved over to the Chicago Cubs in 1982, and one of the first things he did was to make Snyder the organization’s director of player development. He played a big behind-the-scenes role in the 1984 Cubs team that won the NL Central after decades of futility. Sandberg and Dernier were the 1-2 punch in the Cubs lineup, but many of the prospects that Snyder developed with the Cubs — Joe Carter, Carmelo Martinez, Henry Cotto and others — were used as pieces to acquire key veterans like Rick Sutcliffe, Ron Cey, Scott Sanderson and Gary Matthews. The first #1 draft pick that Snyder helped oversee went to shortstop Shawon Dunston in 1982.

“He has all the tools, a super arm and super speed. He’s still learning to play shortstop but that’s his position. He’ll hit 20 home runs a season at Wrigley Field,” Snyder predicted. Dunston never quite turned into a superstar, but he played with the Cubs for 12 years and made a couple of All-Star teams.

Snyder moved from the front office to the field when he was named the Cubs’ first base coach for the 1987 season. After a year, he moved to Seattle to hold the same role for Mariners manager Dick Williams. Williams got the club out to a 23-33 record in 1988 before he was fired. There were several issues at work, including a lack of communication that put Williams against the team’s ace pitcher Mark Langston. Snyder was named interim manager with the idea that he would calm everyone down as a relaxed, communicative departure from the fiery Williams.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because the recently departed Norm Sherry replaced Williams as manager of the California Angels about a decade prior for almost the exact same rationale.

“Dick Williams had his way of doing things. I’ll do things the Jim Snyder way. I’ve managed before and I have my ideas,” Snyder said. “I’ve always been an aggressive type manager. I’ve always tried to force the game.”

The Mariners let Snyder finish the season, but they never removed “interim” from his title, and it was pretty clear from the start that the management had no idea what they were going to do without Williams. “We have not picked a manager from our list yet. Jim Snyder is on our list. There are several people on the list,” said general manager Dick Balderson. “We haven’t really compiled a list,” said president Chuck Armstrong.

Snyder’s Mariners won his managerial debut with their first shutout of the season, a 2-0 win over Milwaukee on June 6. However, the team wasn’t built to win, and the team went 45-60 the rest of the way to finish with 93 losses. Seattle’s biggest accomplishment was making the famed Jay Buhner-for-Ken Phelps trade in July, but even that took a couple of years to really pan out. After the season ended, Snyder was fired, and the job eventually went to Jim Lefebvre.

Snyder worked in the Chicago White Sox organization until he was named the bench coach for the San Diego Padres in 1991 and 1992. The Padres manager, Greg Riddoch, played under Snyder in the minors, and the two had remained friends. Snyder served as an emergency manager for three innings on July 2, 1991. Catcher Benito Santiago threw down his helmet after grounding out in a game against the Dodgers. The helmet bounced off the ground, scraped pitching coach Mike Roarke‘s head and hit Riddoch in the temple, knocking him down. Snyder finished the game as Riddoch was too woozy to manage. He also managed two games in 1992 when Riddoch was attending his son’s high school graduation, but he was no longer interested in a permanent managing job.

“I’ll go back to being a bench coach and helping out Greg. I’ll keep making the suggestions, but he can make the decisions,” he said.

Snyder’s job didn’t get less exciting as a bench coach. He injured his knee in a bench-clearing brawl against San Francisco and needed arthroscopic surgery afterwards. He was let go at the end of the season. He later worked for the Atlanta Braves as a minor-league coach and the White Sox as the director of instruction in the minor leagues. He took that position in 1994 and held it for the next dozen years or so. By the time he retired from baseball, he had been involved with the game in one form or another for more than 60 years, according to his obituary.

Snyder enjoyed golfing and traveling in his retirement in Florida. He is survived by his wife Brenda and four children, three stepchildren and numerous grandchildren.

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