Dottie Reese passed away yesterday. Now, I realize that most of you are reading this and wondering what a sweet, genteel, octogenarian southern belle would have to do with Fenway Park and the Red Sox.
You see Dottie was married to this man,
He is Harold Henry “Pee Wee” Reese and he played for the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1940 through 1958, their first year in Los Angeles.
“Pee Wee” originally signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates however, in 1937 he was acquired by the minor league Louisville Colonels. The Colonels were partially owned by this man,
Thomas Austin Yawkey.
Yawkey also happened to own that team in Boston known as the Red Sox, which gave him first dibs, if you will, on any players on the Colonels squad. Yawkey sent his manager Joe Cronin to Louisville to get a look at his 19-year-old shortstop prospect by the name of “Pee Wee”.
There was perhaps a slight problem with this plan, for you see, not only was Cronin the Red Sox manager, he was also their shortstop. Oh, and their aging shortstop at that. Can you see here, shall we say, a conflict of interest?
Louisville Colonel “Pee Wee” Reese.
Cronin’s evaluation of Reese was “he is a sensational fielder, but the question is can he hit?” The Red Sox skipper/shortstop saw him and a outfield prospect named Dom DiMaggio as “the same type of player” and Cronin contended that he thought “DiMaggio will hit better”. So Cronin OK’d the deal of Reese to the Dodgers for three players lost to history, a pitcher named Red Evans who was 1-11 and $35,000. Now one has to wonder if DiMaggio was a shortstop and Reese an outfielder if Dominic may have been on his way to Brooklyn. In fairness to Cronin, he had two more very productive years as the Red Sox shortstop as he wrapped up his Hall of Fame career and “Pee Wee”?
Well with the Dodgers he was a ten time all-star, he was their shortstop, he was their captain and in 1984 he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee. But he was more than that, much, much more.
When Jackie Robinson became the first black man to play major league baseball in the modern era, “Pee Wee” played a significant role in that undertaking. That role was best exhibited in a few very simple gestures. The first came in Jackie’s first spring training when a few of, shall we say, less than tolerant, Dodgers circulated a petition to present to ownership to not let Jackie play. “Pee Wee”, the captain, was asked to sign it, he refused, the petition died. When Jackie arrived on the field his very first day, it was “Pee Wee” who walked over to Jackie and shook his hand. “It was just my job, I was the captain, I welcomed new players” he said 50 years later. It was just no big deal he simply saw a new teammate.
Then came a day in Cincinnati when the venom and vitriol was spewing from the opposing dugout at an exceptionally excessive level and “Pee Wee” acted, by simply walking over to Jackie and putting his hand on Jackie’s shoulder. Jackie’s words, “Pee Wee kind of sensed the sort of hopeless, dead feeling in me and came over and stood beside me for a while, He didn’t say a word but he looked over at the chaps who were yelling at me through him and just stared. He was standing by me, I could tell you that. The hecklers ceased their attack. I will never forget it.”
A simple gesture that went a long way to changing the course of history, a southern gentleman from Kentucky standing and staring down hatred with his black friend from California.
Jackie passed in 1973, “Pee Wee” in 1999 and their legacy was carried forward by the lovely women in their lives, Rachel and Dottie. That legacy included the commemoration of that moment in bronze outside of Keyspan Park in Brooklyn where it all began.
At the dedication on November 1, 2005 Dottie and Rachel were together when that moment was unveiled.
“Pee Wee thought nothing of it,” Dottie Reese said. “For him, it was a simple gesture of friendship. He had no idea that it would become so significant. He would be absolutely amazed.” She added, “I just wish he were here today.”
But it was a big deal Dottie, because you see,
“Each time a man stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
“Pee Wee” acted, Jackie endured and their ripples of hope have become a reality!
Dottie Reese passed away yesterday and went home to rest with her “Pee Wee” in the arms of the angels.
And so it is on this day in Fenway Park history, March 8, 2012.