Hall of Fame shortstop Pee Wee Reese dead at 81
By Associated Press, 08/14/99 20:50
LOS ANGELES (AP) Pee Wee Reese, the Hall of Fame shortstop and Brooklyn Dodgers captain who smoothed Jackie Robinson's entry into major league baseball as its first black player, died Saturday. He was 81.
The Los Angeles Dodgers confirmed Reese's death. He died at his home in Louisville, Ky. The cause was not immediately known.
Flags at Dodger Stadium were flown at half-staff for Saturday night's game against Atlanta.
''He was the heart and soul of the 'Boys of Summer,''' longtime Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully said Saturday. ''If a player needed to be consoled, Pee Wee would console him. If a player needed to be kicked in the fanny, Pee Wee would do that, too. If a player really needed a friend, Pee Wee was there for him.''
Reese, who overcame prostate cancer years ago, underwent radiation treatment for lung cancer in March 1997 after doctors removed a malignant tumor. He also was recovering from a broken hip at the time.
An eight-time All-Star, Reese led the Dodgers to seven National League pennants and helped Brooklyn win its only World Series championship in 1955.
Nicknamed ''The Little Colonel,'' he batted .269 in a career that spanned 1940-58 and (that) included the Dodgers' first year in Los Angeles.
But his offensive career totals 126 home runs, 885 RBIs did not begin to measure the value of Harold Henry Reese to the Dodgers, or to baseball.
Known for his calm leadership, sure-handed fielding and clutch hits, Reese played a key role in easing Robinson's road into the majors in 1947.
During one particularly tough time when the abuse was getting ugly at Crosley Field in Cincinnati, Reese walked over and put his arm over the rookie's shoulder, a show of unity from a white to a black that spoke volumes.
''I've got a big picture of it, both of us laughing, hanging in my den,'' Reese said a couple of years ago.
That moment is cited as a turning point in Robinson's transition. Later, Reese and Robinson would play golf and tennis together on the road.
In his 1972 book ''The Boys of Summer,'' author Roger Kahn hailed Reese as a ''catalyst of baseball integration'' for his friendship with Robinson.
Reese recalled that, hearing that the Dodger organization had hired a black man, he thought, ''If he's man enough to take my job, I'm not gonna like it, but, dammit, black or white, he deserves it.''
''There were times when I went over to talk to him on the field, thinking that people would see this and figure we were friends and this would help Jack,'' Reese told Kahn.
He said he doubted anyone else could have put up with the pressure and abuse from racists as well as Robinson did.
''To do what he did has got to be the most tremendous thing I've ever seen in sports,''' Reese said.
Reese was inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame in 1984.
After his baseball career, Reese worked as a broadcaster with CBS, NBC and the Cincinnati Reds. He later became director of the college and professional baseball staff at Hillerich & Bradsby, maker of Louisville Slugger bats.