Pee Wee Reese was no Pee Wee
The death in 1999 of the old
Brooklyn Dodger shortstop Harold Henry Reese at 81, better known as Pee
Wee, brought back some of the old debates about how he got his nickname.
Reese's funeral will take place today at Southeast Christian Church of
Reese's major league debut was
April 23, 1940. On the Dodger roster back then was Harold "Pistol
Pete" Reiser. Writers at the time sought to have the two paired
with alliterative nick-names - thus Reese was tagged with the nickname
explanation for the nickname was that Reese, at just 5-9 and 160 pounds,
was "Pee Wee" size.
But the real reason for the
nickname, according to Reese himself, was the skill he displayed as a
youth when he was a champion marbles shooter. A Pee Wee was a type of
marble used in playing this game which many youngsters could be seen
participating in on street corners and back lots.
Reese was anything but
"Pee Wee" in his influence on the Dodgers in over 16 seasons. He
could run, hit, bunt, field, steal, throw, inspire and most of all win.
And he was especially instrumental in easing the way for Jackie Robinson
to break the color line in major league baseball.
When the 1947 season started,
some opposing National League players gave Jackie Robinson a hard time. In
Boston one day, Reese made a gesture of acceptance for all the world to
see. He went over to Robinson and simply put his arm around Jackie. This
was at a time when even Robinson's own teammates staged a short-lived
protest against having him on the team.
"I get a lot of credit
and I appreciate it," Reese said just a couple of years ago.
"But after a while, I thought of him as I would Duke Snider or Gil
Hodges or anyone else. We never thought of this as a big deal. We were
just playing ball and having fun."
Reese spent his entire 16-year
career with the Dodgers, appearing in seven World Series. He played 15
years in Brooklyn and followed the team to Los Angeles for one more season
before retiring in 1958. His uniform Number 1 was retired by Los Angeles
on July 1, 1984.
One of the magical moments in
Reese's career took place on June 22, 1955. It was a day after he had
recorded his 2,000th hit. "Pee Wee" was given a birthday party
at Ebbets Field. It was the first and only night dedicated to a player up
to that time when fans were asked not to contribute anything.
All they were asked to bring
was cigars, cigarettes, lighters, candles - - anything they could light up
for Pee Wee who remembered, "When I came to Brooklyn in 1940 I was a
scared kid. To tell the truth I was twice as scared on my birthday night
at Ebbets Field."
And then the moment arrived.
Fans at that old Brooklyn ballpark watched the lights dim, lit up whatever
they had brought and sang Happy Birthday to Pee Wee with varying levels of
are those of a certain age who still remember Pee Wee Reese bringing the
lineup card out to home plate, raising the right arm, leading the Dodgers
onto the playing field.
Captain of the Dodgers," Reese recalled, "meant representing an
organization committed to winning and trying to keep it going. We could
have won every year if the breaks had gone right."
About the Authors: Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer are a wife and husband
team who successfully bridge the worlds of popular culture and traditional
scholarship. Co-authors of the critically acclaimed interactive oral histories
It Happened in the Catskills, It Happened in Brooklyn, Growing Up Jewish in
America, It Happened on Broadway, It Happened in Manhattan, It Happened in
Miami. They teach what they practice as professors at Dartmouth College.
They are also travel writers who specialize in luxury properties and fine dining
as well as cultural history and Jewish history and heritage in the United
States, Europe, and the Caribbean.
about these authors.
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This Article is Copyright © 1995 - 2012 by Harvey and Myrna Frommer. All rights