Saturday, April 21, 2007

Jackie Robinson & Pee Wee Reese


Baseball legend Jackie Robinson wasn’t a late bloomer, but he was a world-class gravity-defier whose courage inspired countless others.

One of the first to be moved to action was Brooklyn Dodger shortstop Pee Wee Reese.

In contrast to this week's horrific massacre in Virginia, which once again brings home the democracy of death, the Robinson/Reese story reminds us of the potential nobility of human life.

Roger Kahn recounts the incident in a letter to the editor of today's NY Times:

On May 13, 1947, during Brooklyn Dodger infield practice at Crosley Field, Cincinnati, Pee Wee Reese, the Dodger shortstop and captain, suddenly stopped the practice. He walked diagonally across the infield and placed his left arm around the shoulder of Jackie Robinson, who was playing first base.

He looked into the Cincinnati dugout and the grandstands beyond. Ballplayers and fans had been taunting Robinson with terms like "shoeshine boy" and "snowflake." Reese, a slim white Southerner who wore No. 1, kept an arm draped in friendship around the sturdy black man who wore No. 42.

Reese did not say a word. But his look shamed the racists into silence. "After Pee Wee came over like that," Robinson told me years later, "I never felt alone on a baseball field again. . . ."

Robinson confirmed the episode in a 1970 interview with Jack Buck of St. Louis. While I was working as a consultant to a five-part ESPN series on the old Brooklyn Dodgers (produced by Reese’s son, Mark), Pee Wee confirmed the incident in growing detail as conversation nourished his memory.

I was touched and said so. Pee Wee nodded, embarrassed by praise. "I was just trying to make the world a little bit better," he said. "That’s what you’re supposed to do with your life, isn’t it?


NOTES:

1) Roger Kahn is the author of The Boys of Summer. If you'd like to read another inspiring baseball book, pick up a copy of my all-time favorite: Talmage Boston's 1939: Baseball's Tipping Point.

2) The photo at the top of this posting is of a statue of Robinson & Reese that stands in Key Span Stadium in Coney Island, NY. It was taken by Malcolm Pinkney.

2 comments:

  1. I grew up hearing Pee Wee Reese and Dizzy Dean calling baseball games on the radio--if I close my eyes and imagine a childhood summer afternoon, I can practically hear their voices again. It added in retrospect to the pleasure when I learned what kind of man Pee Wee was.

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  2. Thanks, Rich. Loved your comment!

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