Catching Up With Cory Snyder

Everything about former Indians outfielder Cory Snyder was big.  Standing at 6’4”, Snyder was a big player, with big power and a big throwing arm.  When he came to Cleveland as the fourth overall pick in the 1984 Draft, however, the expectations for Snyder were enormous.

“I didn’t know I was going to be drafted so high,” Snyder said.  “I knew I was going to be drafted; I just didn’t know where it was going to be.  I was just happy to be drafted and whoever took me, took me.  It was a good time.”

The hype for the newest Indian prospect was so big, in fact, that the Tribe started the former infield prospect all the way up at the AA level.

“Yeah, that was real nice,” Snyder said with a smile.

While the Tribe was expecting good things from Snyder, he had a little bit of business to take care of first and would take a little longer than normal to start his professional career.  Snyder was a member of the first United States Olympic baseball team that same summer that he was drafted, and he helped the US team take the silver medal for the 1984 Summer Games held in Los Angeles.

“When I was drafted, I was going to play on the Olympic team,” the American’s third baseman said.  “So they came out, I signed, played on the Olympic team, and then I went to the instructional league that year.”

Being drafted fourth overall and making the Olympic team was not a shock to anybody familiar with his game, as Snyder was coming off of a tremendous career at Brigham Young University.  As the son of a former professional baseball player, his talent was obvious to all.  His father, Jim Snyder, was a minor league infielder for the Milwaukee Braves from 1961-62.

“If you ask my dad, he probably would have known early on,” Snyder remarked of his obvious talent.  “I just loved playing the game and I just went out and played every day—and played hard.  He taught me the game and I just got better and better.  It was just one of those things where I was like…just play ball.  He’d throw me batting practice, hit me fly balls, hit me ground balls…it just came natural so it was real easy.  If you ask him, he could probably see early on that I was a little bit better than the rest of the guys and that I had something special.”

While at BYU, Snyder had an outstanding collegiate career that included being an All-American multiple times.  He was an instant success as a Cougar as well, slamming homeruns in his first three college at bats during his freshman year.

“I was the NCAA Freshman of the Year,” Snyder said.  “I was a two year, All-American shortstop and was drafted as a shortstop, but I played third for the Olympics.  In the minor leagues I played third base too, but when I was called up I went straight to right field.”

While it didn’t take long for Snyder to get the call-up to the Major Leagues, he was not in any rush to get there.

“These days, it seems, everybody is up on, ‘When are you going to move?  If you have a good game, they are going to move you,’” Snyder said of today’s players.  “I was never caught up in moving. I went to AA and I just figured that I would stay in AA all year. These days, it seems they want to move guys quicker. I don’t know if it’s because they were drafted higher and are making more money, but back then when you’d go somewhere you go somewhere. I just thought, go play. See what happens.”

The patient Snyder only had to wait until June 13, 1986 to get his call to the Indians, as the Tribe was ready to defeat the Minnesota Twins 11-2 in his first game in The Show.  Snyder went 1-4 with a triple off of future Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven during his first game at Municipal Stadium, as 61,411 fans looked on.

“I remember that there was a lot of people there,” Snyder said of his first game that happened to be on the same night that Marathon Oil purchased 40,000 tickets.  “When you go from the minor leagues, where a packed house is 2,500, and then you come here and there’s 61,000…it was exciting.  Just to be here, your dream as an eight or nine-year-old kid is to make the big leagues.  It was fun.  I was excited to be there, I think you’re in shock and numb for the first couple weeks when you’re there, just thinking ‘Wow, I’m really here.’  It’s a pretty neat thing.”

What else was neat was how Snyder took the Indians fans by storm with his big bat and powerful arm.  Snyder became an instant fan favorite as he batted .272 and blasted 24 homeruns for what was thought to be the “up-and-coming” Indians team.

“I took pride in both my offense and my defense,” Snyder recalled.  “I just felt like if the ball was hit to right field, I was going to catch it and when I do, I’m going to throw somebody out.”

He certainly did it a lot, too.  From 1987-1990, Snyder led the American League with 61 outfield assists.  He was an exceptional fielder as well, making only one error in 310 chances in 1989.

“I had a pretty good arm growing up,” Snyder said.  “I threw pretty hard as a pitcher in high school.  It was pretty fun in college to have the radar guns behind first base, not behind the mound. I just had a God-given arm, and I took care of it growing up.  It was just one of those things that I liked and I liked showing off.”

Snyder helped the Indians to a surprisingly good 84-78 record in his first year and hopes were high entering the 1987 season.  The Tribe had shown so much improvement, in fact, that Sports Illustrated picked the Indians to win the American League pennant for the 1987 season.  Donning the cover of their baseball preview issue was Tribe slugger Joe Carter and the second year sensation, Snyder.

“In spring-training they came up to me and Joe Carter and told us they wanted to put us on the cover,” Snyder remembered.  “We did the shot out there in a studio somewhere.   It was a fun time.”

What didn’t turn out so fun, however, was the Indians play on the field that season.  The Tribe floundered to a dismal 61-101 record that summer, due in large part to a woeful pitching staff.

“Always when you leave spring-training, hopes are high,” Snyder said of the ’87 team.  “You feel good, you’re coming out, and we always had a good spring.  We felt good.  We felt like we had a chance to do some things.  But in the end, I think it came down to pitching and defense.  We had some good pitching – starting pitching – but we were a couple of guys short there.  In the bullpen, we just couldn’t get it to Doug Jones.  It’s baseball.  It’s just the way it goes.  You never think that you’re not in it.  You just have to go out and play hard every day.”

Snyder continued to play hard for the Indians through the 1990 season until he was traded that December.  The Tribe dealt their slugging outfielder to the Chicago White Sox for pitchers Shawn Hillegas and Eric King.  The pair of pitchers never made any real impact on the Indians team, and Snyder struggled during his tenure with the ChiSox.

His tenure in Chicago did not last long, as Snyder was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays by July.  He then spent the 1992 season in San Francisco with the Giants and then signed his final contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers before 1993.  During his final season while in LA, Snyder had a career day on April 17, 1994 when he slugged three homeruns and drove in seven in a 19-2 Dodger victory in Pittsburgh.

Since retiring, Snyder has found a place back in baseball as he currently works as a minor league hitting instructor for the Seattle Mariners.

“I’m coaching now,” Snyder said.  “One of the coaches early on told me, ‘You have to remember, they are never going to play as hard as you did.’  That’s the hard part.  It’s hard because-just the way the players are brought up these days-we didn’t expect anything.  We figured we were going to have to work hard, and if you make the big leagues, you’re going to have to work harder to stay there.”

Despite having a bit of a generational-gap with his young players, Snyder enjoys what he is doing and has his eyes on an even bigger prize.

“It’s good.  I like it.  I really enjoy giving back,” Snyder said.  “It’s kind of like, you’ve been there, done that, so you get that instant respect.  You’ve been in the big leagues so you know what it takes.  The key these days is getting players to understand that.  They have to understand that they need to make adjustments.

“I’d like to be a hitting coach in the big leagues.  I really would.  I believe that I could do that job, helping players.  When you get to the AA, AAA and big-league levels, it’s all the mental part of the game.  As we say, if we knew then what we know now, we would have had a lot more success.  It’s amazing because back then they never really talked about the mental part of the game.  It was just, ‘Get the bat head from here to here and drive the ball.’  Pitchers are better now.  It’s all about getting ahead and getting an idea of what they are going to throw in a count or a certain situation in a game.  It’s fun.  I enjoy it.”

In his free time, Snyder enjoys spending time with his family and his children, who have grown up to be athletes just like their father.

“I follow my kids around.  I play a little golf still,” Snyder said.  “Both of my boys are in college now playing baseball.  JC, he’s my oldest, he plays at BYU.  Both of my boys wanted to do the junior college route.  So, JC went two years at Salt Lake Community and my other son, Taylor, he’s a freshman there now.  So, I get to follow them around in the fall and watch them play.  Then, my youngest daughter is a rodeo girl, so I get to follow her around and watch her run barrels a little bit.  It’s good.  It’s a good time.”

Snyder continues to work hard and have fun doing so.  It is the same qualities that he had when he was a young ballplayer—the qualities that drew the fans to him in droves.

“It was probably my style of play,” Snyder said of his popularity in Cleveland.  “I played hard every single day.  I didn’t take anything for granted, I was just happy to be there.  I gave it all every time I took the field.”

Photo: Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

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