Dodgers Way Top Ten Dodgers of All-Time: Number Seven
Next up on our list of the top ten Dodgers of all time is legendary shortstop from the Brooklyn days, Pee Wee Reese. Not only one of the best Dodgers ever, but one of the best people to have ever played for the Dodgers organization.
Harold Peter Henry Reese was interestingly nicknamed “Pee Wee” for being a great marble player as a child because Pee Wee is a name for a small marble. He was also really small growing up which also made the nickname fit even more. Reese wasn’t a great baseball player growing up.
In fact, he didn’t play baseball until his senior year of high school at DuPont Manual in Louisville, Kentucky. Despite not playing baseball until his final year of high school he still wound up finding his into the baseball hall of fame voted in by the veterans committee in 1984.
After being undrafted and playing amateur baseball for a year Reese eventually found his way to the minor leagues playing for the Louisville Colonels. The Boston Red Sox bought the team and Reese was then being groomed to be the eventual starting shortstop for Boston in the near future.
However, the Red Sox’s manager at the time was also their starting shortstop, Joe Cronin. Cronin started to realize Reese was coming for his spot so the team then traded him to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1939 for 4 players and $35,000 and the rest is history. Reese got the call-up to the big leagues in 1940 at the age of 21 and immediately showed promise hitting .272 with a .366 OBP.
Reese did struggle in his sophomore season but made his first of ten consecutive all-star teams in his third season. He then missed the next three years from 1943-1945 for military service then came back to finish his career in 1946 playing thirteen more years. Pee Wee did manage to play one season in LA in 1958, the teams inaugural season in the city of Los Angeles, but of course, Reese made a name for himself in Brooklyn.
Unlike many hall of famers, Reese didn’t put up big numbers. He finished a career .269 batter with a .366 OBP. He wound up with a career 126 home runs, 885 RBI, and 232 SB in a 16-year career. Despite not being great statistically, he was one of the greatest leaders of his time. Not only did he make ten straight all-star teams he also had eight top ten MVP finishes.
Reese was a part of seven national league championship teams and won the 1955 World Series, but perhaps his greatest example as a leader was the friendship he had with Jackie Robinson. Robinson, of course, is the man who broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947 by being the first African-American to play in the majors.
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As one could imagine Robinson was heckled relentlessly during his playing career especially his rookie campaign receiving little to no support from not just the league, but his own clubhouse. Reese was the first player who openly accepted Robinson by becoming someone who provided guidance and support throughout his career.
Reese famously put his arm around Robinson during a game his rookie season in a gesture of support of his African American teammate that silenced the crowd. The story and image are so iconic in baseball history that a statue has been made in MCU Park in Brooklyn celebrating the moment. Reese’s willingness to embrace Jackie was not only a sign of a great leader but a great person.
Reese made it easier for Jackie to focus on just playing baseball and Jackie wound up winning the rookie of the year that season. Reese also had one of the best years tying his career high with a .284 BA leading the league with 104 walks and having a career high .841 OPS. The Dodgers made the World Series that year but lost to the New York Yankees in seven games. Jackie and Reese were teammates for ten seasons and became one of the best middle infield tandems in baseball.
Next: Dodgers Way top ten Dodgers of all time: Number 8
Reese wasn’t the most talented and doesn’t have to gaudy numbers of some of the other Dodger all-time greats, but he is one of only eight players to have their number retired by the team. Reese is not one of the greatest Dodgers ever for his stats. He is recognized for these things by being incredibly successful throughout his career and being a leader of one of the most winning eras in Dodgers history.