Harold Peter Henry “Pee Wee” Reese 1
Born: July 23, 1918 in Ekron, Kentucky Died: August 14, 1999
Batted: Right Threw: Right 5’10” 160 lbs.
This week’s Blue Bios features Hall of Famer Pee Wee Reese who played shortstop for the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers from 1940-1958. Reese famously supported and accepted his teammate Jackie Robinson during the difficult early years after Robinson broke the color barrier in professional baseball. Pee Wee got his nickname from being a champion marbles shooter at 12 years old. A “pee wee” is the name of a small marble. Yet his moniker fit his stature as well. He was so small in fact (only 120 lbs. as a senior in high school) that he only played in six games at second base in his last year of grade school.
While working for the phone company as a cable splicer, Reese played baseball in a church league. When his team made it to the league championship, the minor league Louisville Colonels let his team play on their field. The Colonels owner Cap Neal was impressed with Reese and signed him for a $200 bonus. The Colonels were part of the American Association, and they had a minor league agreement with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He became the Colonels regular shortstop in 1938, and Red Sox farm director Billy Evans suggested they should buy the team after Reese became one of the top prospects. Joe Cronin was both the Red Sox shortstop and manager at the time, and downplayed Reese’s talent to protect his shortstop gig. He wanted Reese to be traded, and on July 18, 1939 Reese was traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers for $35,000 and a player to be named later. We got the better of that deal, didn’t we?
In 1940 Reese was called up from Louisville, and took Leo Durocher’s spot in the lineup. Durocher was both the shortstop and manager for the Dodgers. Unfortunately Reese suffered a fractured heel that shortened his 1940 season. He played in just 84 games and finished with a .274 batting average. The next season Reese struggled. He only hit .229 and had a league leading 47 errors. In the World Series he only hit .200 and made three errors in the four games against the Yankees. Then in 1942 Reese turned it around, and he was named an All-Star for the first of 10 consecutive seasons. He led the league in assists and putouts for his position at shortstop.
Reese enlisted in the Navy in 1943 and missed three seasons. The Dodgers played poorly in those years. When he returned in 1946, the Dodgers and Cardinals battled each other in the first ever tie-breaker for the National League pennant. The Cardinals won the first two of the three game series to win the National League championship.
In 1947 when Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers, Reese showed his support and friendship by putting his arm around him in a pre-game practice in Ohio after fans were heckling Robinson. This gesture is now a historic moment in Dodger and baseball history. That year Reese had a excellent .284 average with 104 walks and a .426 slugging percentage. With Robinson at second base, the pair was defensively superb and one of the best double play duos.
In 1949 the Dodgers won the NL pennant again, but were defeated by the hated Yankees in the World Series although Reese hit .316 in the series with 6 hits. In 1950 Reese became the Dodgers team captain. He was often called “The Captain.” In 1953 the Dodgers had a 105-49 record and went on to win the pennant as Reese scored 108 runs and had a .271 average. Yet once again the Yankees defeated the Dodgers in the World Series. The Dodgers actually offered Reese the manager job at the conclusion of the season, but he declined and instead long-time manager Walter Alston took over the helm.
In 1954 Reese hit a career high .309 batting average. In 1955 Reese scored 99 runs, and the Dodgers finally won their first World Series. Reese had two RBIs in game 2. During game 7 Reese singled and scored a run, and helped make a double play from a relay throw from left field to secure the win.
Reese’s last season would be played in Los Angeles when the Dodgers moved out west. He played in 59 games with the Los Angeles Dodgers before retiring. He went to work for the Louisville Slugger bat company after.
In his 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. He led the Brooklyn Dodgers to 7 pennants.
After he retired, Reese became an announcer for a time. He died after a battle with prostate and lung cancer. In 1984 Reese was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and his number 1 is retired by the Dodgers. Although Pee Wee Reese played long before my time, he is one of my favorite players because of both his excellence on the field and his commendable character in his support for his friend Jackie Robinson.
Stay tuned for more Blue Bios as we profile past and present Dodger greats.