Harold "Pee Wee" Reese
Playing With Jackie Robinson
In spring 1947, when Brooklyn brought Robinson up from its Montreal farm club, tensions were high at the Dodger training camp. Reese took the lead in making a place for Robinson on the team despite resentments. Reese was the first to shake Robinson's hand and the first to play cards with him in the clubhouse. Not long after spring training began, a group of southern players, led by Dixie Walker, circulated a petition stating that they would not play if Robinson were allowed on the team. Reese, the team captain and a Southerner himself, bluntly refused to sign it. That action, many believe, effectively put an end to the uprising.
That was not the end of attacks on Robinson however. Once the season began, Robinson's presence gave rise to virulent racist provocation at ball parks throughout the United States. Witnessing a particularly violent eruption of racist heckling against Robinson in Cincinnati, Ohio, Reese walked onto the field and put his hand on Robinson's shoulder, a powerful expression of solidarity. "Pee Wee kind of sensed the sort of hopeless, dead feeling in me and came over and stood beside me for a while," Robinson is quoted in Arnold Rampersad's biography Jackie Robinson. "He didn't say a word but he looked over at the chaps who were yelling at me … and just stared. He was standing by me, I could tell you that. I will never forget it."
Reese became Robinson's closest friend on the Dodgers, as well as his mate in a deadly double-play tandem after Robinson was switched to second base. Playing next to Jackie Robinson seems to have spurred Reese to the finest performances of his career. Beginning in 1947, Reese appeared in eight consecutive All-Star games. He had his best all-around season in 1949, batting .279 and leading the National League in runs scored. In 1954, he batted for a career high average of.309. Under Reese's captainship, the Dodgers won five National League pennants between 1949 and 1956. It wasn't until 1955 that Brooklyn finally managed to win the World Series, thanks in great measure to a spectacular play in the deciding game, in which Reese cut off a throw from the outfield after a fly out, spun blind and fired the ball to first to double off a runner there. The play helped preserve the Dodger's lead.
Reese hung up his spikes at the close of the 1958 season. When he retired, the Dodgers offered him the job of manager, a position he had already turned down twice as a player. He declined the job a third time, preferring to work with the team as a coach, a position he held for a single season. He subsequently worked as a baseball broadcaster for NBC and CBS, and as a representative for Louisville Slugger, the country's most respected maker of baseball bats. Reese underwent surgery for prostate cancer in the 1980s and in 1997 was diagnosed with lung cancer. He died on August 14, 1999 at his Louisville home.
As an eight-time All Star who led the Dodgers to seven pennants and one World Series victory, Pee Wee Reese would have won a place in the hearts of Brooklyn Dodger fans whatever else he had done. His courageous public support of Jackie Robinson earned him a more important spot not just in the history of baseball but in the history of the civil rights movement of the mid-century. Joe Black, a black pitcher who joined the Dodgers a couple years after Robinson, told Jet magazine, "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."
- Harold "Pee Wee" Reese - Chronology
- Harold "Pee Wee" Reese - Youth In Kentucky
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