Compton High School has enjoyed a long illustrious history of athletic excellence and it all began with the class of 1944. That year, two students graduated that would change the world of sports forever. In the midst of their many adventures, Duke Snider and Pete Rozelle carried the legacy of the class of '44 wherever they went.
As they received their diplomas on that sunny June afternoon, young Pete Rozelle and Duke Snider were faced with the question that haunts every young high school graduate: what's next? For Pete, he immediately enlisted in the Navy, invigorated by a sense of patriotism with World War II raging overseas. He spent the next 18 months on an oil tanker in the Pacific.
After the war, Pete returned home to Compton where he attended the local junior college, honing his skills as an administrator by serving as his school's student-athlete news director. He also served part time as a p.r. assistant for the Rams.
Duke went another route. Right after graduation, he joined the Dodgers minor league circuit before joining the fight against the Axis powers in the Army towards the tail end of the war. After he was discharged in the middle of 1946, he sharpened his skills by playing for the Fort Worth Cats, catching the eye of the Dodgers front office.
After impressing in Spring Training, Snider was promoted to the majors early in 1947. But his good fortune would be short-lived as he was sent back down to St. Paul after 40 games with the big club, finishing off the year humbled and determined to return. Althoug he would return to the Dodgers for that year's World Series, he didn't see the field as the Dodgers once again lost to the Yankees.
Duke Snider returned the following spring ready to seize the opportunity and he didn't disappoint. In 1948, he averaged .244 in 53 games, a warmup for the following year. In 1949, he stayed with the big club the whole year, scoring 100 runs, driving in 92 and averaging .292 while the Dodgers lost to their bitter rivals in the Fall Classic once again.
Athletics is a funny industry. No matter how much work someone may put into their craft, all it takes is a chance meeting with teh right individual to change a person's life forever. That is exactly what happened to Pete Rozelle. In 1948, Pete Newell, the head coach of the University of San Francisco football team, stumbled upon the young news director and offered him a full ride as long as he covered the Dons. Rozelle jumped at the opportunity.
While working as a student publicist for the athletic department, Pete drew national attention to the Dons' NIT champion basketball program. The university liked what it saw and offered him a full time roll as the athletic news director upon his graduation in 1950.
While working in that capacity, Pete Rozelle had a front row seat to one of the greatest displays of sportsmanship and human decency in history a year later. The Dons football program was a powerhouse in those days, at one time fielding three future Hall of Famers. It was then when the program was faced with the its ultimate test.
Having gone unbeaten, the Dons were invited to the Orange Bowl, one of the most prestigious invites a college football team can receive. However, there was one caveat: they would have to leave their two Black players behind. In those days, the Orange Bowl committee refused to allow any person of color play in its exclusive venue.
But the Dons were filled with men of true character and decided to abstain from the Orange Bowl. With the football program already losing money hand over fist, the decision proved to be the nail in the football program's coffin. It didn't matter to the players though, they knew that they made the right decision. It was a story that would echo in Pete Rozelle's mind throughout his career.
Meanwhile, Duke Snider's career was taking off. He was an All Star from 1950 through 1956 while leading the team to three more appearances in the Fall Classic. In 1950, he led the National League with 199 hits while blasting 31 home runs. By 1955, he was an MVP candidate, finishing second in the voting behind teammate Roy Campanella.
But the sting of narrowly missing the award was completely absolved when the Dodgers finally defeated the Yankees, their tormentors, in the World Series that year. Two years later, the Dodgers moved out of Brooklyn and the cozy confines of Ebbets Field to the expanse of Chavez Ravine and the vast wonders of Los Angeles.
After USF's football program disbanded, Rozelle took a job as a p.r. specialist with the Rams, staying there until 1955. After his departure, Pete took a sabbatical from football, holding several positions in public relations around L.A, eventually serving in that capacity in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.
When he returned to the United States, Rozelle was hired as the general manager of the Rams. While the team never enjoyed much success with him at the helm (including a franchise worst 2-12 season in 1958), Rozelle managed to turn the franchise's financial fortunes around so that it could survive in the fast-paced economy of Los Angeles. Then, he got the strangest call of his life.
The 1960's and Beyond
After enjoying an illustrious career in the 1950's, Duke Snider began to show his age in the next decade. In his final five years as a player, he would only play in 100 or more games twice. In 1963, with his career clearly on a downward trajectory, Snider was traded to the Mets where he made his last All Star Game after batting .243, slamming 14 home runs and driving in 45 scores.
After that last gasp of greatness, Duke was traded to the Giants in 1964 where he collected 35 hits, bashed four homers, drove in 17 runs and batted .210. He retired after that season and immediately transitioned into a long, prosperous radio and television career. Whether it was calling games for either the Padres or Expos or gueststarring on shows such as Father Knows Best and The Rifleman, it didn't take long for Duke Snider's name to become synonymous with the major networks.
Meanwhile, Pete Rozelle was taking the NFL by storm. In a surprise move, the NFL owners voted him into their circle as the league's new commissioner. In those days, the AFL was trying to squeeze into the major sports landscape and by the middle of the decade had started to sign some major NFL stars away from their teams. A resolution needed to be made in a hurry.
So the two leagues decided to merge. With Pete Rozelle overseeing the proceedings, he was immediately seen as the savior of the league with his decision to let the games continue days after President John F. Kennedy's assassination becoming a distant memory.
The league's profits soon snowballed as it grew from a mom-and-pop business into the consciousness of corporate America. By the time Rozelle retired in 1989, the NFL had never been bigger. And with that, the legacy of Compton High School's class of '44 had been fulfilled. Today, Duke's plaque and Pete's bust reside in their respective Halls of Fame, a permanent reminder of their impact on their sports.