Harold "Pee Wee" Reese
Youth In Kentucky
Harold Henry Reese was born on July 23, 1918 in Ekron, Kentucky. His father, Carl, was a railroad detective, and his family lived for the most part in Louisville. Harold was a small boy growing up, but it was not his stature that brought him his famous nickname. Folks started calling him "Pee Wee" when the fourteen-year old Reese won a national marbles tournament. A "pee wee" is a kind of marble.
Despite providing Reese with the trappings of a normal boyhood, Louisville was still a segregated city in the American South. "When I was growing up, we never played ball with blacks because they weren't allowed in the parks," Reese told Ira Berkow of the New York Times. "And the schools were segregated, so we didn't go to school with them." Reese later admitted he had never shaken the hand of a black man until he greeted Jackie Robinson on the first day of the Dodger's 1947 spring training. Kentucky had much darker secrets than segregation. When Reese was about ten-years-old, his father took him to a tree and solemnly told the boy that black men had been lynched on the tree. The story impressed Reese deeply, and when he became a father himself, Reese showed his own sons the same tree.
Reese did not play on his high school baseball team, probably because of his size. After he graduated and took a job as a cable splicer for the local phone company, however, Reese joined the New Covenant Presbyterian Church team. In the church league, Reese proved to be a talented shortstop and at the end of the 1937 season he was signed by the Louisville Colonels of the minor league American Association (AA). By the end of his second season with the Colonels, Reese had become the star of the team. He was a sterling infielder, with a fielding average of .943 whose speed and smarts enabled him to lead the league in both triples and stolen bases. In 1939 Reese was acquired by the Boston Red Sox who, unable to find a place for him in their line-up, sold him the following year to the Brooklyn Dodgers of the National League (NL) for $75,000. He joined the team for the 1940 season. He had an unremarkable rookie season, but Reese came into his own in 1941, and under his field leadership, the Dodgers won the National League pennant.
In 1942 Reese married Dorothy Walton, with whom he would have two children, a daughter Barbara and a son Mark. Shortly after their marriage, Reese enlisted in the Navy in 1943 and shipped out to fight in the Pacific theater of the Second World War. Like many another ball-players in the early 1940s, Reese lost some of the best years of his playing life in the service of his country in the Second World War. Sailing home from Guam in 1945, a shipmate brought Reese the news that the Dodgers had just become the first team in the major leagues to sign a black player, Jackie Robinson. Reese was unfazed, till he learned that Robinson was a shortstop. "My God, just my luck, Robinson has to play my position!" Reese told Berkow of the New York Times. "But I had confidence in my abilities, and I thought, well, if he can beat me out, more power to him. That's exactly how I felt." Reese held onto his shortstop position. Robinson was used at first base, and later moved to second.