Pee Wee Reese

SCP Auctions proudly presented the Pee Wee Reese collection at auction December 2nd, 2004.

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Pee Wee ReeseHe stood just 5 feet, 10 inches tall, weighed just 160 pounds. He was called Pee Wee and The Little Colonel. He never hit for power and rarely for a high average. But by any real measure of an athlete -- teamwork, leadership, winning -- Harold Henry Reese was a giant.

Before Reese joined them in 1940, the Brooklyn Dodgers didn't win. During his three-year absence due to military service, they didn't win. Yet in his 16 seasons with the club, Reese led the Dodgers to seven pennants and one long-awaited World Championship, a victory over the hated Yankees in 1955.

He played the three most important positions on a baseball team: captain, shortstop and lead-off man. At shortstop, he was a peerless fielder. From the lead-off spot, he drew 80 or more walks nine times and stole 20-plus bases in five different seasons. His baseball resume included ten All-Star game appearances, and eight times he ranked among the top 10 in voting for the NL MVP. However, as impressive as they are, Reese's individual statistics are seldom referenced by those who knew or played along side him. "Talk about your ultimate team player," former teammate Dick Williams said. "He was it."

Pee Wee Reese's career encompassed a golden era in baseball, before free agency and corporate influence robbed teams of their identity and character. His Dodgers were known as The Boys of Summer or Dem Bums, depending on whom you asked. They were an idolized team filled with distinctive stars like Jackie Robinson, Gil Hodges, Duke Snider, Roy Campanella and Pete Reiser. And Reese was their leader. "He was like an older brother -- and for some guys, he might have been a father figure," former teammate Ralph Branca said. "He personified the spirit of Brooklyn and the Dodgers. He did everything right."

But it was for his friendship with Robinson, who broke baseball's color barrier in 1947, that Pee Wee Reese might best be remembered. While Robinson proved a black man could compete in the white major leagues, Reese showed a white man from Kentucky could treat Robinson as an equal. When a petition against Robinson was circulated during spring training, Reese refused to sign it. And just like that, any rebellion was quashed and Robinson was promoted to the majors.

Then came May 14, 1947. The Dodgers were playing the Reds at Crosley Field in Cincinnati. The fans booed Robinson, then a first baseman, mercilessly. And Reese, in a defining moment, walked to Robinson and put his arm around him. "I don't even remember what he said," Robinson wrote later. "It was the gesture of comradeship and support that counted." The next season, Robinson moved to second base, where he and Reese formed one of the best double play combinations of all time.

Pee Wee Reese survived two cancer operations before his death in August of 1999. He was 81. Not long before his death, a reporter asked Reese what should be written about him. "Just the usual stuff," he said. "That I'm a hell of a guy."