Pee Wee Reese got his nickname as a young champion marble shooter; a “pee wee” is a type of marble. A Kentucky native, he earned the monicker The Little Colonel as the star shortstop on the Louisville Colonels (American Association). After his arrival in Brooklyn, he was named captain of the Dodgers, and many called him The Captain. The title was well earned, as he was the leader of Dodger teams that won seven pennants in the 1940s and 1950s. When Jackie Robinson arrived in Brooklyn amid enormous pressures and player resentment, it was Reese who set the example of acceptance, putting his arm around Robinson’s shoulder on the field, showing the world he was Robinson’s teammate and friend.
After being signed by the Red Sox, the 5’10” 160-lb Reese proved his worth in Louisville. Managing and playing shortstop for Boston at the time was Joe Cronin, who wasn’t ready to make room for the talented youngster by moving himself to third base. He was sold to Brooklyn for $75,000, but Reese’s rookie 1940 season was marred by a fractured heel. He recovered in 1941 to lead the Dodgers to their first pennant since 1920. From 1941 through 1956, with a three-year absence in the navy during WWII, he averaged 148 games a year.
A smooth fielder, he became the premier shortstop of his era, an All-Star each year from 1947 to 1954. He was also a great leadoff hitter, leading the NL in walks (104) in 1947, in runs scored (132) in 1949, and in stolen bases (30) in 1952. He was also noted for his clutch hitting and excellent bat control. Reese’s highest average was .309 in 1954.
Reese was one of the most popular players on an idolized team. For his birthday in 1955, the Dodgers threw a party at Ebbets Field, showering him with $20,000 worth of gifts, and 35,000 fans lit candles and sang “Happy Birthday” to him as the lights went dark in the fifth inning. When the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles, Reese went along. He played 59 games in 1958 and became a coach. But he soon retired and went to work for the Louisville Slugger bat company. His leadership on the Dodgers’ pennant-winning teams gained him election by the Veterans Committee to the Hall of Fame in 1984.