Obituaries: Pee Wee Reese

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The Independent Culture
PEE WEE Reese was one of baseball's finest shortstops and, through his prominent role in the "great experiment" that led to integration of the game, one of its most important social revolutionaries.

In 1946, the Brooklyn Dodgers' general manager Branch Rickey selected Jackie Robinson to become the first black major leaguer this century, having faith that his new acquisition was "a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back" in the face of racism. That the experiment was largely a success is a tribute both to Robinson's strength of character and to Reese's willingness to accept his new team-mate.

Together, Reese and Robinson became both the best and the highest paid shortstop/second base combination of their era; the centrepiece of a Dodgers team that included Duke Snider, Gil Hodges, Preacher Roe and Roy Campanella and one which is fondly remembered by fans by the sobriquet "The Boys of Summer". Reese had already participated in the 1941 World Series and, paired with Robinson, he played in another six with the Dodgers ('47, '49, '52, '53, '55 and '56), the team winning the World Series in 1955.

The Dodgers' very first road trip in 1947 was to St Louis where Robinson walked out on to the field and was greeted by loud abuse from the crowd and the opposing dugout. Reese walked over and placed his hand reassuringly on Robinson's shoulder, an expression of solidarity that would forge a close friendship and forever change the game. As Robinson became more confident in his role as an advocate for integration, he also became more aggressive and Reese's natural civility and tact helped defuse tense situations.

Reese remained one of Robinson's greatest admirers, stating many years later: "He could have done anything he set out to do. It didn't have to be baseball. He was articulate and sharp and when he started to speak out, easy to dislike. But he taught me a lot more than I ever taught him."

He was born Harold Reese, the son of a detective with the L&N Railroad, at Ekron, Kentucky, and grew up in Louisville. As a youngster he became city marbles champion, hence his nickname - a pee wee is a small marble - and was playing minor league baseball before he was old enough to vote.

Whilst with the Louisville Colonels in 1939 he was signed to the Boston Red Sox - the owner Tom Yawkey bought the entire franchise to obtain the young shortstop. The Dodgers' chief scout Ted McGrew had also shown an interest and, aware that the Sox' player- manager Joe Cronin, himself a shortstop, had little intention of retiring, suggested that an offer be made. Reese's contract was purchased for $75,000 and in 1940 Ebbets Field, Brooklyn, became his ballplaying home.

He remained with the franchise until his own retirement in 1958, by which time it had relocated to Los Angeles. All told he played in 2,166 games, accumulated 2,170 hits, including 126 home runs, stole a franchise-leading 232 bases and finished his career with a lifetime batting average of .269. As with many of his contemporaries, wartime service, in his case three years in the US Navy (1943-45), robbed him of greater totals.

Following his retirement, Reese briefly coached the Dodgers before moving into first broadcasting and then commerce. He eventually became an executive with the Hillerich and Bradsby Co, manufacturers of Louisville Slugger baseball bats. In 1984 he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Paul Wadey

Harold Henry Reese, baseball player: born Ekron, Kentucky 23 July 1918; married 1942 Dorothy Walton (one son, one daughter); died Louisville, Kentucky 14 August 1999.

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