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Birth:
Ekron KY 1
Death:
14 Aug 1999 2
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Full Name:
Harold Peter Henry Reese 1
Also known as:
Pee Wee Reese 1
Full Name:
Harold H Reese 2
Birth:
Ekron KY 1
Male 1
Birth:
23 Jul 1918 2
Death:
14 Aug 1999 2
Residence:
Last Residence: Louisville, KY 2
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Social Security:
Card Issued: Unknown Code (PE) 2
Social Security Number: ***-**-9905 2

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Pee Wee Reese, 81, Captain of the Dodgers' 'Boys of Summer'

Pee Wee Reese, the Hall of Fame shortstop and hugely popular captain of the Brooklyn Dodgers who played on seven pennant-winning teams, died Saturday at his home in Louisville, Ky. He was 81.

He had been battling lung cancer since 1997, when he underwent radiation treatment after surgery, his son, Mark, said.

Reese was a superb fielder and an outstanding base runner for the Dodger teams that dominated the National League in the decade following World War II. He exceeded the 2,000-hit mark and he was a nine-time All-Star.

But he was remembered as much for attributes that transcended box scores. His plaque at the Baseball Hall of Fame, where he was inducted in 1984, cites his ''intangible qualities'' of leadership.

Reese was indeed a presence, despite the suggestion of perpetual boyishness arising from his modest frame and from his nickname, gained when he won a tournament shooting pee-wee marbles while growing up in Kentucky.

He befriended Jackie Robinson when Robinson broke major league baseball's color barrier in 1947, easing his acceptance among Dodger teammates while standing up for him in the face of opposing teams' racial taunts.

And Reese was the leader of a club with a formidable array of stars -- Robinson, Duke Snider, Gil Hodges, Roy Campanella and Carl Furillo, and pitchers Don Newcombe, Carl Erskine and Preacher Roe, remembered with Reese as the Boys of Summer.

Reese wore No. 1, and that was how his teammates saw him.

On the day Reese was inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, Campanella observed: ''He was the leader of the team. Everyone would look up to Pee Wee.''

''He could look at a guy with a half-snarl and burn his shorts off,'' Erskine said on Saturday. ''He never shouted, and he played every day. He didn't have to say anything, he just showed everyone.''

Harold Henry Reese was born on July 23, 1918, in Ekron, Ky., some 45 miles south of Louisville, the son of a railroad detective.

He was all of 5 feet 9 inches and 140 pounds when he began his professional career with the Louisville Colonels of the American Association in 1938. Yet he was impressive at shortstop, and the Boston Red Sox later bought into the minor league team to insure the rights to Reese. But the Boston manager, Joe Cronin, was also the team's shortstop and was not ready to quit. So Reese was sold to the Dodgers for a reported $40,000 after his second year at Louisville.

Reese was brought up by Brooklyn in 1940, envisioned as the successor at shortstop to the Dodgers' manager, Leo Durocher. He was sidelined for much of his rookie season by a beaning and a broken foot, but in 1941 Reese became a regular, teaming with outfielder Pete Reiser for a youthful spark on an otherwise veteran team that captured the Dodgers' first pennant in 21 years.

Reese enlisted in the Navy after the 1942 season and played baseball on naval teams in Virginia and the Pacific. When he returned for the 1946 season, a new era was emerging in baseball, and he faced an unexpected test.

''I was aboard ship, coming back from Guam,'' he remembered. ''Someone on the ship knew who I was. He told me, 'Pee Wee, the Dodgers signed a black.' And I kind of laughed about it. I said: 'You gotta be kidding. They wouldn't sign a black.' They always said the blacks couldn't play under pressure; things got hot, they would fold up.

''Maybe an hour or two later, he came back and told me -- this same kid -- said he was not only a black, but he was a shortstop. Now, then, he caught my attention.''

But when Jackie Robinson joined the Dodgers in 1947, Reese set a tone of tolerance. When another Southerner on the Dodgers, Dixie Walker, instigated a petition against Robinson, Reese refused to sign it. And he made a gesture that spoke loudly.

As Duke Snider recalled: ''One time in Boston early in that rookie season, some of the Braves players began to heckle Pee Wee being a Southerner and playing ball with a Negro. Pee Wee didn't answer them or even look at them. He just walked over to Jackie and put his hand on his shoulder and began to talk to him. That shut the Braves right up.''

''He was standing by me,'' Robinson later said. ''I will never forget it.''

Years later, Reese said: ''I wasn't trying to think of myself as being the Great White Father. It didn't matter to me whether he was black or green, he had a right to be there, too.''

After playing at first base as a rookie, Robinson shifted to second, combining with Reese for a superb double-play combination in the years to come.

Reese was enveloped in the fans' debates that punctuated the golden age of New York baseball. Alongside arguments among the worshipers of the center fielders Snider, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays were the disputes over who had the better shortstop -- the Dodgers with Reese, the Yankees with Phil Rizzuto or the Giants with Alvin Dark.

 

The 1955 season would be the sweetest one for Reese.

On July 22, the eve of his 37th birthday, he was accorded the grandest tribute for a Brooklyn player: Pee Wee Reese Night. In a pre-game ceremony at Ebbets Field lasting 50 minutes, Reese received gifts including a freezer with 200 pounds of food. Seven different autos were driven onto the field and his 11-year-old daughter, Barbara, reached into a fishbowl and picked out one of seven ignition keys. (It fit the Chevrolet.) And in the middle of the fifth inning, two huge birthday cakes were wheeled onto the field. The lights were dimmed and the 33,003 fans struck matches or cigarette lighters, then stood and sang ''Happy Birthday.''

The ultimate satisfaction came on Oct. 4, 1955, at Yankee Stadium -- Game 7 of the World Series. At 3:43 P.M., the Yankees' Elston Howard hit a grounder to shortstop. Reese scooped it up and fired to Hodges. The Dodgers had a 2-0 victory and their first World Series title. After suffering through five World Series defeats at the hands of the Yankees, the captain had made the play that sealed a championship.

Vin Scully, the longtime Dodgers broadcaster, recalled Saturday: ''In the Dodger dressing room in Brooklyn, you had the metallic lockers and they all had stools. But Pee Wee had an armchair, and he would sit there smoking his pipe. He was not the senior citizen, because that would make him sound like he was an old man. But you knew as soon as you walked into the clubhouse, there's the king. There's the captain. There's the No. 1 man.''

When the Dodgers left Brooklyn after the 1957 season, Reese went along to Los Angeles. He played one season there, then retired with 2,170 hits, 232 stolen bases (for teams that had little need to run) and a career average of .269 over 16 seasons. He was No. 1 in Dodger history in runs scored (1,338) and No. 2 in at-bats (8,058) and hits, behind Zack Wheat.

In addition to his son, of Los Angeles, and his daughter, of Louisville, Reese is survived by his wife of 57 years, Dorothy, of Louisville; three sisters, Elizabeth Green, Willie Carman and Cissy Pearl, all of Louisville; three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Reese served as a Dodger coach in 1959 and then did baseball telecasts for CBS and NBC. The man also known as the Little Colonel later worked for Hillerich & Bradsby, manufacturer of Louisville Slugger bats.

A quarter-century after he last led his teammates out of the Ebbets Field dugout for the start of a game, Reese reflected on how he still retained the admiration of the old Dodgers. He observed: ''Most of the players that are still alive to this day call me captain.''

     

Pee Wee Was a Giant Baseball: Dodger Hall of Fame shortstop acclaimed as the heart and soul of the 'Boys of Summer' dies at 81.

Pee Wee Reese, the slick-fielding shortstop of the legendary Dodger teams of the 1940s and '50s who played a vital role in the team's acceptance of Jackie Robinson as baseball's first black player, died Saturday at his home in Louisville, Ky. He was 81.

The cause of death was not announced by the Dodgers, who reported Reese's passing only hours before the team took the field against the Atlanta Braves. It was known, however, that Reese had battled cancer in recent years. Flags at Dodger Stadium flew at half-staff to mark the passing of a man who was as much of a giant off the field as he was on it.

"He was the heart and soul of the 'Boys of Summer,' " said Vin Scully, the longtime Dodger announcer. "He was the rare man who had the voice of authority and who was still loved by his teammates. I don't know of a modern-day player who was loved by his teammates as much as Pee Wee was, in all honesty."

Don Newcombe, a teammate of Reese's, said the shortstop was always a leader.

"It's a sad day," Newcombe said. "The way he held the club together, Pee Wee was always a calming force. I know he helped me immensely to become the winner I was."

Reese played 16 seasons with the team, missed three years because of World War II, and left with a career .269 batting average, a career fielding average of .962. He was named captain of the team in 1951 by Manager Charlie Dressen and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1984.

He was considered by many the best shortstop of his era. He was an all-star in 1942 and in every year from 1947 to 1954. He was also an excellent leadoff hitter, leading the National League in walks with 104 in 1947 and in runs with 132 in 1949. His highest batting average was .309 in 1954.

Reese still holds Dodger records for runs--1,338--and walks--1,210 and is second in hits 2,170 and at-bats with 8,058.

"From the time he put on his uniform until the time he took it off, Pee Wee Reese is the best shortstop I've ever seen," Alvin Dark, a shortstop for the New York Giants, said in an interview in 1953. "That takes in everything--covering ground, throwing, making double plays, power-hitting, bunting, making the hit-and-run play, walking, running bases and stealing. There's nothing he can't do."

But his strongest contribution to the team may have been the role he played in helping Robinson break baseball's color barrier in 1947 against terrible opposition.

"The fact that Reese, a Southerner, befriended Robinson made a great deal of difference to his Dodger teammates," said Tot Holmes, a baseball historian who has written several books on the Dodgers and publishes the newsletter "Dodger Dugout."

Despite the arrival of players from the West Coast like Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams some years earlier, baseball in the late '40s still was populated by players from the South, who played most of the year because of the better weather.

During the spring of 1947, when it was obvious the Dodgers were planning to bring up Robinson from their Montreal farm club, several members of the club, mostly Southerners, passed around a petition saying they wouldn't play if Robinson joined the team.

Those circulating the petition thought Reese would be a sure thing, but he refused to sign.

"The momentum for the petition stopped right there," said Roger Kahn, author of the classic history of the Dodgers of that era, "The Boys of Summer."

Buzzie Bavasi, the Dodgers' general manager at the time, recalled that any remaining opposition to Robinson on the team seemed to melt away after one incident involving Reese.

"Jackie slid into second base and looked like it hurt himself," Bavasi said Saturday. "The manager went out to second to check on him and Pee Wee went too. Pee Wee walked Jackie off the field with his arm around his shoulder."

Bavasi maintains the incident hushed up both the fans and quieted whatever internal opposition was on the team.

"Pee Wee was a man who led by example, not with his mouth," Bavasi said.

Reese was also not afraid to show his support for Robinson away from Ebbets Field.

Holmes, the baseball historian, recalled an incident in Cincinnati.

"In the first game of a series in Cincinnati the race baiting from the Cincinnati players at Robinson, who was playing first base, was extremely bad," Holmes said. "Reese had enough of the abuse, called time and walked over to Robinson and simply put his hand on his shoulder. Eyewitnesses said the crowd quieted as if a lightning bolt had struck."

To be sure, not all players in the league were opposed to Robinson. Stan Musial, the Cardinal great, befriended him. So did Hank Greenberg, who played the last year of his spectacular career with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Greenberg, a Jew, probably recalled the bigotry he faced when he joined the Detroit Tigers in 1933.

But Robinson later said he felt that Reese's gestures were the most important.

Reese had a wry sense of humor and would kid Robinson when times were tough. Once when the fans were booing Robinson, Reese went over and said to him, "They aren't booing you because you're black. They just don't like you." Robinson laughed. Reese was the only man on the team who could kid Robinson in such a way.

Reese and Robinson were also friends off the field and often played bridge together.

When Robinson died in 1972, Reese was a pallbearer at his funeral.

"I took it as an honor," Reese said.

Nothing in Reese's background would have prepared him to play such a pivotal role in baseball history.

Harold Henry Reese was born in Ekron, Ky., on July 23, 1919, of Dutch and Irish ancestry. His father was a yard detective for the railroad. In 1932, Reese, then 13, became the national marble champion. Because he used the type of marble known as the "peewee," he eared the nickname "Pee Wee."

He was an unusually short teenager, which kept him from playing on the baseball team until he was a senior. In that year, he did play as a second baseman in a few games. After high school, Reese went to work as a cable splicer for the phone company but spent his summer weekends playing on the baseball team of the New Covenant Presbyterian Church in his city. In 1937, his team led the church league. Some say it was Reese's performance in that final game that got him a contract with the Louisville Colonels, an independent minor league team in the American Assn.

The Brooklyn Dodgers purchased him for $75,000--Reese got $7,500 of it-- after the 1939 season, in which he batted .279, led the association in triples with 18 and stolen bases with 35. His play at shortstop was outstanding and he had a fielding percentage of .943. When the country-boy Reese joined the Dodgers he was probably not ready for the interesting cultural climate in Brooklyn.

The Dodgers played in the bandbox of a park called Ebbets Field, which was inhabited by an assorting of characters like the legendary Hilda Chester. Chester, of booming voice and annoying disposition, would yell out to Reese as he took his position: "Have you had your milk today, Pee Wee?" And Reese, who recalled the story years later in a newspaper interview, knew he had to answer her or she would keep asking the question.

"I learned very quickly that I'd better tell her, "Yes, I've had my milk today, Hilda,' " Reese said.

He also learned that a lot was expected of him. His manager was Leo Durocher, who was also the team's shortstop and one of the best fielders at his position in the league, until Reese showed up. "The best leadoff hitter in the National League, and if there is a better one in the American League I never heard of him," Durocher said.But Reese's first year was cut short when he broke his heel sliding into second base. In 84 games, however, he batted .272 and had a .960 fielding percentage.

The Dodgers won the pennant in his second season, 1941, but in terms of personal achievement it was a bad season for Reese. He led the league in errors with 47 and his fielding average was .946, the lowest of his career. His batting average also suffered as he hit a career-low .229.

Reese rebounded well in his third season, making the all-star team and leading the league in assists, before leaving baseball to join the Navy during World War II. He attained the rank of chief petty officer, another testament to his leadership, but lost three years of baseball time. He was discharged in 1946 and the next year, the color line in baseball was broken.

In 1953, after Dressen left the team in a dispute over a contract, Bavasi had a secret meeting with Reese and offered him the job. But, according to Bavasi, Reese declined citing his years of friendship with the other players on the team.

But that didn't keep him from still being the leader in the clubhouse.

And that was no more apparent than before the seventh game of the 1955 World Series.

"We began to think we could never beat the Yankees," recalled the great Dodger pitcher Johnny Podres. "Then, on that day [Game 7] in the clubhouse, Pee Wee said, 'It looks like we can beat these guys and show them that we can do it. Today is the day we can do it.' "

The Dodgers, and Podres, won the game, 2-0, for their first World Series championship in Brooklyn.

Reese played shortstop until the team moved to Los Angeles in 1958, when he moved to third base and was replaced by Don Zimmer. He played only 59 games in his final season before becoming a coach for the Dodgers in their World Series championship year of 1959.

"I have heard the expression about several former Dodgers that this one or that one was the greatest Dodger who ever lived," said Hall of Fame outfielder Duke Snider, who rode to the park with Reese every day in Brooklyn. "In my estimation, Pee Wee Reese was the greatest Dodger who ever lived. Without his help, I never would have been a Hall of Fame player. He is the finest person I think I've ever met."

After his retirement from baseball, Reese returned to Louisville, where he had established business interests over the years, including an executive role with Hillerich and Bradsby, the manufacturers of Louisville Slugger bats, and later as a broadcaster with CBS, NBC and the Cincinnati Reds. He will be remembered by many fans as being the broadcasting partner of Dizzy Dean on baseball's game of the week.

"In the old clubhouse at Ebbets Field, everyone sat on stools in front of their metallic lockers," Scully recalled Saturday. "He had an armchair. That was really the only thing that set him apart. And the players always teased him good-naturedly. When he'd be getting in the batting cage, you'd hear somebody say, 'No. 1 on your scorecard and No. 1 in the hearts of America, Pee Wee Reese.' It was a constant, the love was that obvious."

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