Summary

Birth:
01 Oct 1901 1
New York City, NY 2
Death:
13 Jul 1994 2
Jul 1994 1
Santa Ana, CA 2
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Personal Details

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Full Name:
James H Reese 1
Also known as:
Jimmie Reese 2
Also known as:
James Herman Solomon 2
Birth:
01 Oct 1901 1
New York City, NY 2
Male 2
Death:
13 Jul 1994 2
Jul 1994 1
Santa Ana, CA 2
Burial:
Westwood Memorial Park Los Angeles CA 2
Residence:
Last Residence: Los Angeles, CA 1
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Social Security:
Card Issued: Unknown Code (HC) 1
Social Security Number: ***-**-1430 1

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Angels Coach Jimmie Reese Dies at Age 92 : Obituary: During 78 years in baseball he won the friendship of game's greats, regard of legions.

   SANTA ANA — He was Babe Ruth's roommate. He was Nolan Ryan's and Reggie Jackson's best pal. But to those close to him, Jimmie Reese will always be remembered for the man he was, not the men he knew.

His love of the game buoyed him through 78 seasons of professional baseball--from batboy for the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League in 1917 to conditioning coach for the California Angels in 1994--and along the way he lifted the spirits of countless managers, coaches, players, clubhouse workers and sportswriters.

Reese, 92, died Wednesday morning at a hospital in Santa Ana. He was in his 23rd season with the Angels organization.

"I was very fond of Jimmie Reese," Angels owner Gene Autry said. "He's one of the finest men I've ever known. We will miss him, I'll tell you that. He was a wonderful, wonderful man."

Added Autry's wife, Jackie: "He represented the best part of baseball. . . . He was an extraordinary gentleman. We should get his fungo bat and put it in the Angel Hall of Fame."

A fungo bat, long and thin with an extra-long handle and occasionally one flat side, is used by coaches to hit grounders and fly balls while players practice fielding. Reese was known throughout baseball for his ability to use it to drop a ball on a dime.

Reese broke into professional baseball with the minor league Oakland Oaks in 1924 and six years later was purchased by the New York Yankees. With the Yankees, he roomed with the legendary Ruth, an association that provided Reese with a collection of tales that never failed to mesmerize listeners.

Through the years, he became mentor and close friend of players such as Ryan, Jackson and pitcher Jim Abbott, but few who crossed his path were untouched by his sincerity, his good nature and his uncanny ability to make people smile.

Reese, born in New York City on Oct. 1, 1901, spent three seasons in the majors--two with the Yankees and one with the old St. Louis Browns.

It was as the former roommate of the notoriously fun-loving Ruth, baseball's first great home-run hitter, that Reese gained most of his fame. And he enjoyed every minute of it.

"He used to always tell us," Jackie Autry said, "I didn't really room with Babe Ruth. I roomed with his luggage."

Angels Reese once said that if he lived to be 100--and he didn't miss by much--he would never forget Ruth.

"My friendship with Babe meant that I walked the streets of New York with him," Reese said.

"Everybody wanted to be around him. People would yell his name or just run up and touch him. A lot of times people would ask him for money. Times were hard in those days. Babe would give a guy $10 and say, 'OK, you owe me.' But he knew he'd never see the guy again."

But hanging around Ruth had its price. Once when the Yankees were in St. Louis, Reese said, Ruth's wife ordered him to drive the Babe from the hotel to the ballpark. Make sure there were no stops, she said.

"We went out a side door and got in his 16-cylinder Packard," Reese recalled. "And there was a lady in a parked car. The Babe said we were going to take a little detour.

"We followed her a couple of miles to an apartment. The Babe told me to read a book or two. An hour or so later he came out puffing. He lit a cigar and said we better get to the park.

"Infield practice was on when we arrived. Manager Bob Shawkey said hi to the Babe. But to me he said, 'Where the hell you been, Reese?'

"Shawkey had to come up with something, so he told me, 'Reese, I think you're bad company for Babe to keep.' I all but fell over, but Babe thought it was a howl."

Another of Reese's favorites was Ryan. The former pitcher and Reese became friends when Ryan and Reese joined the Angels in 1972.

The first day of spring training, Reese ran Ryan all over the outfield with his famous fungo bat.

"Who is that guy?" Ryan asked. "He's going to kill me the first day."

They ultimately became close friends, and one of Reese's prized possessions was the baseball Ryan used to complete his fifth no-hitter.

"I have no idea how we became friends," Reese once said. "I must be at least 10 years older than he is."

From the time he was hired as batboy by the Los Angeles Angels in 1917, Reese never missed a summer's participation in the national pastime until 1991.

What doctors called a coronary occlusion threatened his career, but after missing almost the entire 1991 season Reese was back in 1992, celebrating his 76th summer in the sport.

The Angels announced at the time that Reese had been signed to a lifetime contract and would not have to do any more traveling.

In his day, though, he traveled lots. He was a second baseman when he began his playing career with the Pacific Coast League's Oakland Oaks. In 1930, along with another infielder, Lyn Lary, Reese was sold to the Yankees. The price for the pair was $125,000, at the time a record figure.

Reese played 232 major league games, batting .278. He was a deadly pinch-hitter, getting 15 hits in 33 at-bats for a .455 average.

 

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Angels Coach Jimmie Reese Dies at Age 92 : Obituary: During 78 years in baseball he won the friendship of game's greats, regard of legions II

  Ordinarily, a slick-fielding second baseman who bats .278 would last a decade. Unfortunately, Reese broke in the year the major leagues had their liveliest baseball. In 1930, nine of the 16 teams averaged better than .300.

Reese returned to the Pacific Coast League in 1933. He retired as a player after the 1938 season, having spent 13 seasons in the league.

  (March 6th, 1930. Babe Ruth plays some Spring Training pepper with teammates (from L to R) Jimmie Reese, Allen “Dusty” Cooke, and Bubbles Hart. What I realized is odd about this photo is that Jimmie Reese is wearing Babe Ruth’s #3 uniform. He actually wore #25 that season with the Yankees. I know it is Spring Training and numbers are not always solidified for Rookies & newcomers but you would think the Babe’s #3 would be off limits to anyone. In addition, Dusty Cooke actually wore #6 that season also not the #31 he’s wearing here, so who knows what was up in St. Petersburg that Spring . As far as “Bubbles Hart” goes, I have no idea who the guy was but his name is interesting.)

  After retiring as a player Reese served as scout, manager and coach, finally joining the major league Angels in 1972.

In 1927, after hitting .337 for Oakland, Reese was given a "Jimmie Reese Day," $1,000 and a suitcase full of clothes.

Sixty-two years later, there was another "Jimmie Reese Day." The Angels honored him--fittingly--before a Yankee game in 1989 as the greatest fungo hitter, nicest man and best living symbol of baseball tradition.

Reese said he was mystified by the day in his honor. All he ever wanted to do, he said, was play, watch, teach and talk baseball.

Reese had no survivors. Donations may be made in Reese's name to the Jackie Robinson Foundation, 3 W. 35th St., 11th floor, New York, NY 10001-2204, and to the Amigos de los Ninos, P.O. Box 2602, La Habra 90632-2602.

There will be visitation from noon to 7 p.m. today at Fairhaven Memorial Park, 1702 E. Fairhaven Ave., Santa Ana. Memorial services will be conducted at 1 p.m. Friday at the Samsvic Chapel, Calvary Church of Santa Ana, 1010 N. Tustin Ave.

An ongoing fungoer California Coach Jimmie Reese is the oldest and best fungo hitter around

Ryan or Guidry? Rice or Parker? One of the axioms of baseball is that fans—and insiders, too—will forever argue over who is best at a particular skill. Best hitter, best pitcher, best peanut vendor. No claim of superiority is beyond dispute. Well, almost none. The sole exceptions are the superlatives bestowed on Jimmie Reese, a spry 74-year-old coach for the California Angels. Reese not only is the oldest man in a major league uniform, but he is also the world's greatest fungo hitter. There can be no debate on either point.

For the information of fans who never arrive at a game before the national anthem, fungoes are the balls a coach hits to fielders during pregame drills. The derivation of the term "fungo" is somewhat obscure. According to one explanation, it comes from an old game in which the hitter would yell, "One go, two go, fungoes." Whatever the source, White Sox Coach Bobby Winkles says that when it comes to fungoes, "Jimmie Reese is No. 1 and the rest of us are eighth, ninth and 10th." Minnesota Manager Gene Mauch adds, "He's got a swing any tournament golf pro would envy."

Mauch's praise helps explain how Reese once shot an 82 for 18 holes using only a fungo bat and a putter. In 1968, while coaching Seattle in the minors, Reese beat a golf pro in a test of accuracy. Standing at home plate, he stroked four out of 15 baseballs into a circle in centerfield with his bat, while the golfer dropped in two golf balls with a nine iron.

In another esoteric test, Reese won a bet from current Pirate skipper Chuck Tanner, when Tanner was the Seattle Rainiers' manager, by hitting a flagpole from 100 feet away on his first swing. But Reese's fungo skills have not always been employed so frivolously. Until 1972 he "pitched" batting practice in the minors with a fungo bat—and without a protective screen. "He hit strikes with 90% accuracy," says Cleveland Second Baseman Duane Kuiper. "That's better than most pitchers." Reese's mound career ended prematurely after a line drive whistled dangerously close to his head. "If that ball had hit me," recalls Reese with a shudder, "it would have sent me to the great beyond."

Reese broke into baseball in 1917 as a bat boy, a clear indication of destiny's call. The highlights of his playing career came as a Yankee rookie in 1930 when he hit .346 in 188 at bats and roomed with Babe Ruth. "I probably roomed with his bed more than with Babe," recalls Reese. "He had one of those unusual constitutions. He could stay up all night and still hit a ball 500 feet."

Since retiring as a player in 1938, Reese has banged out some two million short hoppers, towering pop-ups, long flies and sinking line drives—most of them with bats he makes in his workshop at home. That's right, Jimmie Reese, the game's premier fungo hitter, doesn't use a store-bought fungo bat. A wood-carver in his spare time, he fashions his own by splitting a regular bat through the middle with a band saw. "Tan oak doesn't crack or split as easily as the ash or poplar they use in the fungo bats today," explains Reese, "and mine is heavier. Normal fungo bats are 16 to 25 ounces; mine is 27 and has greater balance." Reese hits the ball with the rounded side and uses the flat surface to scoop up balls as the fielders throw them in to him. "Not having to bend down to pick up those balls has added two or three years to my career," he says. He also pops 80 vitamin pills daily and never lights the cigars he chomps.

For the most part, Reese has used the same fungo bat the last nine years, unlike other coaches, who go through at least three or four a season. But this one is not really his favorite. He almost lost that bat in 1967 when he made the mistake of lending it to a young player. Without Reese's knowledge, the player took the bat into the batting cage and—oh no!—broke it. Because of their light weight, fungo bats are easy to swing and control, but they cannot withstand the impact of a major league fastball. Reese was able to put the broken bat back together, and now he keeps it under lock and key.

Those coaches who aren't as particular as Reese obtain their fungo bats from the Hillerich and Bradsby Co. Some models are shaped like a slimmed-down version of a regular bat, others resemble a broomstick or have a thin handle with a bottle barrel.

For the past seven seasons Reese's fungo duties have been restricted largely to conditioning the Angel pitchers. Rather than make them suffer through monotonous wind sprints, as is the custom, Reese runs them backward, forward and to the side as he bangs out balls.

 

"Jimmie can stretch you out so that the ball just hits your glove," says Nolan Ryan, who named his second son Reese. "We've never been in better shape, and he's such a great man that our morale has been tremendous."

Watching Reese practice his craft is like attending a clinic. "If I want to hit grounders, I hit the ball while it's between my waist and knees," he says. "If I want to pop one straight up for a catcher to work on foul flies—and that's the toughest fungo to hit—I have to throw the ball over my head and come under it. And if I'm hitting flies to the outfielders, the ball is only slightly above my head so I can get distance. If you want line drives, it's out to the side so that you can strike it good."

Because Reese only hits to the pitchers, probably the best all-purpose fungo hitters today are Bobby Knoop, another Angel coach, and Dave Garcia, the manager of the Indians. "During spring training, I keep extending the fielders gradually so that they begin to realize how far they really can go," says Garcia. "But before a game I never try to cross up the infielder. I try to make him look good, give him a ball he can handle."

Like playing the oboe, fungo hitting is a difficult art, and not every coach masters it. The Yankees' Yogi Berra, for example, readily admits he's inept. He considers it a chore just to get the ball in the vicinity of the fielder, so he doesn't worry about such subtleties as speed and spin. "Yogi really is bad," confirms Yankee broadcaster and former teammate Phil Rizzuto. "He's broken his finger twice hitting fungoes."

Pitchers traditionally have been the best at hitting fly balls with fungo bats, probably because it gives them a chance to accomplish in practice what they can seldom do in a game: smash the ball a long way. As a result, they are the leading experts at busting balls over fences or into the stratosphere, altogether useless skills that Reese considers bastardizations of the art.

When it comes to muscle flexing, few players can jerk a ball as far or as high as journeymen relievers Joe Hoerner, who played from 1963 to 1975, and Ed Roebuck (1955-66). Both hit tape-measure shots in numerous parks, but they are best remembered for reaching the highest part of the Astrodome roof, the ultimate test in power fungo hitting.

When fungo hitters visit Houston they invariably try to reach the roof. Most fail. The only current player who can drive a fungo that high with any regularity is San Diego Reliever Rollie Fingers.

The fungo may have been as important in determining the height of the Astrodome as the calculations of any engineer. Roebuck recalls that during spring training in 1963 the late Dodger owner, Walter O'Malley, approached him early one morning with a challenge: Could Roebuck hit a fungo 200 feet straight up in the air? O'Malley wanted the information to assist in the design of the Dome. Certainly the pitcher was a logical choice for the experiment because he had once hit a ball out of the Los Angeles Coliseum, a prodigious shot that cost him a $75 fine. Roebuck told O'Malley he was up to the task, so that afternoon he and O'Malley took the field with a fungo, a bag of balls and various measuring devices. The rest is architectural history.

"Mr. O'Malley never told me how high the balls went," says Roebuck, "but they must've been close to 200 feet because a few days later, while I was sitting in the bullpen during a game, a bat boy delivered a sack stuffed with $75 in quarters." And, sure enough, the design for the Astrodome called for the roof to be 208 feet above the field at its highest point. Though the roof remains a favorite target of fun-loving fungoers, it has never been hit during a game.

For all its importance, fungo hitting remains an unappreciated phase of baseball. This circumstance is no doubt attributable to its tarnished reputation. The 1886 edition of Art of Batting warned ominously, "There's no worse habit for batsmen to indulge in than batting 'fungo' balls."

But there is no better habit for coaches who want to hone a player's defensive skills or whip him into shape.

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