About Harold Peter Henry "Pee Wee" Reese
Harold Peter Henry "Pee Wee" Reese (July 23, 1918 - August 14, 1999) was an American professional baseball player. He played in Major League Baseball as a shortstop for the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers from 1940 to 1958. A ten-time All Star, Reese contributed to seven National League championships for the Dodgers and, was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1984. Reese is also famous for his support of his teammate Jackie Robinson, the first modern African American player in the major leagues, especially in Robinson's difficult first years.
Reese's nickname originated in his childhood, as he was a champion marbles player (a little "pee wee" is a small marble). Reese was born in Ekron, Meade County, Kentucky, and raised there until he was nearly eight years old, when his family moved to racially segregated Louisville. In high school, Reese was so small that he did not play baseball until senior year, at which time he weighed only 120 pounds and played just six games as a second baseman. He graduated from duPont Manual High School in 1937. He worked as a cable splicer for the Louisville phone company, only playing amateur baseball in a church league. When his team reached the league championship, the minor league Louisville Colonels allowed them to play the championship game on their field. Reese impressed Colonels owner Cap Neal who signed him to a contract for a $200 bonus.
By 1938, Reese was the Colonels regular shortstop and one of the top prospects in the minors, and so impressed Boston Red Sox farm director Billy Evans that he recommended the Red Sox buy the team. Evans and owner Tom Yawkey both knew that the Red Sox' longtime shortstop, Joe Cronin, was nearing the end of his career. However, Cronin was the Red Sox' manager as well, and still thought of himself as a regular shortstop. When Yawkey sent Cronin to Louisville to scout Reese, Cronin deliberately downplayed Reese's talent and suggested Reese be traded. It took awhile to find a buyer, since the other teams assumed something had to be wrong with Reese if the Red Sox wanted to get rid of him. However, on July 18, 1939, Reese was sent to Brooklyn for $35,000 and four players to be named later. This trade is now considered one of the most lopsided deals in baseball history.
Reese stayed in Louisville for the rest of the 1939 season, and was called up to Brooklyn in time for the 1940 season. In an ironic twist, he walked into a situation where his manager was also the regular shortstop—in this case, Leo Durocher. Unlike Cronin, however, Durocher was willing to give up his spot in the lineup to Reese.
Early playing careerReese's rookie season in 1940 was curtailed by a broken heel bone that limited him to only 84 games in what had looked to be a promising season (.272 batting average with 58 runs scored). He had a thrilling moment that year, hitting a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth inning to beat the New York Giants. In 1941, he suffered through a poor season, hitting a meager .229 and leading the league with 47 errors. Even playing in the World Series that year was a forgettable experience for Reese, as he batted only .200 and made three errors in the four games to one Yankees romp. It was in the 1942 campaign that he truly established himself, making the National League All-Star team for the first of ten consecutive years and leading National League shortstops in both putouts and assists.
Like many players of his era, he missed three seasons due to military service. Reese enlisted in the United States Navy in 1943 and shipped out to fight in the Pacific theater of World War II. While Reese was in the service, the Dodgers languished, finishing no better than third place and as poorly as 42 games out (in seventh place) in 1943. Upon his return in 1946, Reese immediately righted the ship as the Dodgers once again were a contender, finishing just two games behind the St. Louis Cardinals.
Reese was a strong supporter of the first 20th century black Major League Baseball player, Jackie Robinson. He was serving a stint in the Navy when the news of Robinson's signing came. Although he had little or no experience interacting with minorities — according to Reese, his meeting Robinson marked the first time in his life that he had shaken hands with a black man — he had no particular prejudices, either. It is reported that his father had made him starkly aware of racial injustice by showing him a tree where a lynching had occurred. The modest Reese, who typically downplayed his pioneering role in helping to ease the breaking of the 80-year-old color line, said that his primary concern with regard to Robinson's arrival was the possibility of Reese losing his shortstop job. Robinson was assigned to play as the team's second baseman, and Reese retained his position.
Reese refused to sign a petition that threatened a boycott if Robinson joined the team. When Robinson joined the Dodgers in 1947 and traveled with them during their first road trip, he was heckled by fans in Cincinnati, Ohio. During pre-game infield practice, Reese, the captain of the team, went over to Robinson, engaged him in conversation, and put his arm around his shoulder in a gesture of support which silenced the crowd. This gesture is depicted in a bronze sculpture of Reese and Robinson, created by sculptor William Behrends, that was placed at KeySpan Park in Brooklyn and unveiled on November 1, 2005.
Throughout that difficult first year in the major leagues, Reese helped keep Robinson's morale up amid all the abuse. As the 1947 season wore on, there was tacit acceptance of the fact that blacks were now playing big league ball and were probably there to stay. Robinson still got pitches thrown at him, but, as Reese recounted to author Roger Kahn, "I told him, 'You know Jack, some of these guys are throwing at you because you’re black. But others are doing it just because they plain don’t like you.'” His role in nurturing Jackie Robinson aside, 1947 was a superb year for Reese, as he batted .284 with a league-leading 104 walks. He also had a career best slugging average of .426. Their rapport soon led shortstop Reese and second baseman Robinson to become one of the most effective defensive pairs in the sport's history.
The friendship between Reese and Robinson is prominent in Roger Kahn's classic work, The Boys of Summer. At Reese's funeral, Joe Black, another major league baseball black pioneer, said,
"Pee Wee helped make my boyhood dream come true to play in the majors, the World Series. When Pee Wee reached out to Jackie, all of us in the Negro League smiled and said it was the first time that a white guy had accepted us. When I finally got up to Brooklyn, I went to Pee Wee and said, 'Black people love you. When you touched Jackie, you touched all of us.' With Pee Wee, it was No. 1 on his uniform and No. 1 in our hearts."
In 1949, Reese had his only league lead in a significant batting category, topping all National Leaguers with 132 runs scored. The Dodgers won the pennant again that year, but the Yanks continued to dominate in the World Series, winning in five games despite Reese's .316 Series average and team-leading six hits.
Reese became Dodgers' team captain in 1950. In 1951, he had career high in RBI, with 84. In 1952, he led the National League in stolen bases with 30. That same year, Reese had his best Series, batting .345 with 10 hits, one home run and four RBI. In Game 3, Robinson and Reese pulled off a double steal, with both later scoring on a passed ball.
The 1953 Dodgers won the National League pennant with a mark of 105–49 for a .682 winning percentage. Reese was a mainstay for the team, with 108 runs scored and a .271 batting average. The Yankees, however, again defeated the Dodgers in the 1953 World Series, four games to two. After the season, the Dodgers offered Reese the position of manager; when Reese declined the promotion, the Dodgers hired Walter Alston, who remained manager for more than two decades.
In 1954, Reese batted .309, the only season in which he hit over .300. Though 36 years old, he was still going strong during the 1955 season, scoring 99 runs. In that year, the Dodgers won their first World Series. Reese had two RBI in Game 2. In Game 7, he singled and scored an insurance run. While on the field, he doubled off Gil McDougald at first after a sensational catch and relay throw in left field by Sandy Amoros to help preserve the victory.
In 1957, Reese yielded his starting role to another black ballplayer, Charlie Neal. As the Dodgers moved west in 1958, Reese joined them on their sojourn as a backup infielder, retiring that year after batting only .224 in 59 games. He coached for the Dodgers in the 1959 season, earning a second World Series ring.
Career statisticsIn a 16 year major league career, Reese played in 2,166 games, accumulating 2,170 hits in 8,058 at bats for a .269 career batting average along with 126 home runs, 885 runs batted in and an on base percentage of .366. He retired with a .962 fielding percentage.
Other than his Navy time between 1943–1945, Reese had no breaks in service and played at least 140 games in every year from 1941 to 1956. Consistently productive, he scored at least 75 runs from 1942 through 1956 and amassed 1338 lifetime, best of any Dodger. Though he never won a Most Valuable Player Award, eight times he ranked in the top ten of the Most Valuable Player Award balloting. He also was a home run threat during a time when shortstops seldom hit home runs. Reese amassed 252 stolen bases in a period when steals were not an integral part of the game. Defensively, he was an outstanding gloveman, leading National League shortstops four times in putouts and ranking in the top 10 all-time in putouts and double plays.
One of the most popular players with both his teammates and the fans, the "Little Colonel" was the Dodgers' team captain, and he, not the manager, brought out the line-up card at the start of their games. Reese and Elston Howard have the dubious distinction of playing on the most losing World Series teams (six each). Reese's only World Series win as a player, with the Dodgers in the 1955 World Series, occurred against Howard's New York Yankees during Howard's first World Series. No other non-Yankee ballplayer has appeared in that many World Series for the same team.
Broadcasting careerFollowing his retirement as a player, Reese enjoyed considerable success as a play-by-play announcer on network television. He called games for CBS from 1960–1965 (with Dizzy Dean) and for NBC from 1966–1968 (with Curt Gowdy). Reese also broadcast the World Series for NBC Radio in 1967 and 1968, called Cincinnati Reds telecasts in 1969-1970, and served as a part-time television analyst for the Montreal Expos in 1972.
Later life and death
In his later years, Reese was employed at Hillerich & Bradsby, makers of Louisville Slugger baseball bats. He battled prostate and lung cancer during the final years of his life, and died on August 14, 1999 at his Louisville home.
Awards and honorsIn 1984, Reese was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum along with Rick Ferrell.
A statue of Reese was erected in front of the main entrance of Louisville Slugger Field.
Reese was married to the former Dorothy "Dottie" Walton on March 29, 1942, who survived him in death. They had two children.