The statue commemorates Reese’s simple act of kindness on May 13, 1947, less than a month after Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier. Reese took action at Crosley Field in Cincinnati, only a two-hour car ride away from Pee Wee’s Kentucky childhood home. A fan favorite, Reese carried great influence with the Cincinnati fans.
Before infield practice, Robinson was the target of racial slurs hurled upon him from fans and players alike. From his position at shortstop, Reese walked over to Robinson at first base, draped his left arm around the trailblazer, and glared into the dugout and grandstand, quieting the racist taunts.
It was acts like this that earned Reese the respect of the players of his era. Nicknamed “Pee Wee” because of prowess at shooting marbles – a small marble is called a pee wee – Reese was the Dodgers’ captain for their first World Series title in 1955.
When he died in 1999, a number of his former teammates and opponents were asked to write their reaction to the passing of the Dodger hero.
Many remembered his on-field exploits; all recalled his leadership skills and high character.
“Harold ‘Pee Wee’ Reese was a captain of captains,” wrote Carl Erskine, a teammate for ten years. “Our infield was full of captains – Roy Campanella was like a field general; Gil Hodges, a sharp thinker with baseball savvy; Jackie Robinson, smart, aggressive. Any of them could have been a captain. Pee Wee, however was the respected leader. He played for a least four different type managers all of whom considered him their extension on the field.”
Another pitcher, Roger Craig, broke in during that championship year of 1955. He pitched for 12 seasons and managed nearly 1,500 big league games,
Craig played for Walt Alston, and was a pitching coach under Sparky Anderson, each of whom has a plaque in Cooperstown in tribute to his managerial skills. When it came to leading a team Craig put Reese in a class by himself.
“To this day, I still call him Captain,” replied Craig. “He was the best leader I ever saw in a baseball club. I learned more about pitching in crucial situations from him than anybody.”
This comes from a man who pitched on staffs with Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, and Bob Gibson, Hall of Fame pitchers each, yet it’s Reese whom Craig credits with teaching him about pitching in crucial situations.
Teammates thinking highly of their captain is one thing; hearing praise from opponents is another. Former Cy Young award winner, Vern Law, pitched against Reese in seven seasons. To say Reese owned him might be an understatement. For his career, Reese hit .342 with a .432 on base percentage against the Pittsburgh hurler.
“When I reflect about the tough hitters I faced, it was the little guys like Pee Wee who made our job tough because they could spray the ball to all fields,” Law reflected. “He was a great competitor and could do all the things that help you win a ball game, the kind of a fellow you like to have playing on your club.”
That’s quite a stamp of approval from the former Pirates star. Law acquired the nickname “Deacon” because of his position in the Church of the Latter Day Saints. He saw on-filed excellence from Reese, but intuitively sensed something greater.
“I have nothing but respect for the Colonel of the Dodgers,” the Deacon continued. “It was guys like him who make the game great. Outside of being a great ball player, Pee Wee was a great human being which to me was more important.”
Reese commanded respect, even from the fiercest of rivals. Bobby Thomson, the man who dashed the Dodgers’ hopes with the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World”, a walk-off homerun in a one-game playoff in 1951, begrudgingly acknowledged Reese’s greatness.
“First you must appreciate the historical rivalry we had with the Dodgers,” Thomson penned in 1999. “It went beyond most rivalries. We didn’t like them and they didn’t like us and it showed in every game we played. So there were two Pee Wees: The one I played against and the one I had a relationship with after our playing careers. No question he was an inspirational great player but I wouldn’t admit that while we played. It wasn’t until our careers ended and we met as plain people I realized what a fine man Pee Wee was. He was as good as they come, the kind of guy I would have loved to play with.”
Friend or foe, teammate or New York Giants rival, the men of Reece’s era expressed universal respect.
By the time Bobby Morgan broke in with the Dodgers, Reese was getting old by baseball standards, having already amassed almost 5,000 plate appearances. For Morgan, Reese’s presence went beyond the stats and leadership ability.
“Pee Wee was a childhood idol,” wrote Bobby Morgan. “Playing next to him was a 14-year old boy’s fantasy and dream comes true. He was our captain and still is out captain. We all miss him.”
The Dodgers left Brooklyn more than 50 years ago; their beloved captain now gone for more than a decade. Little remains in the city for fans to recall their proud history. But those who attend a Brooklyn Cyclones game are reminded of greatness; every game they’re greeted by the larger-than-life statue of two of the city’s finest.
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