Who is Pee Wee Reese? Meet Kentucky's Baseball Legend and Pioneer of Change

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Who is Pee Wee Reese? Meet Kentucky's Baseball Legend and Pioneer of Change

Throughout baseball history, more than few players have had a lasting impact on the game.

One of those is Harold Peter Henry "Pee Wee" Reese.

Born July 23, 1918, in Ekron, Kentucky, Reese would rise from humble beginnings to become one of the most important figures in Major League Baseball during a long career with the Brooklyn Dodgers (and one year in Southern California with the Los Angeles Dodgers.)

His story is not just about his prowess on the baseball field, but also about his courage and humanity off it.

As sports betting in Kentucky prepares to launch in September, it's helpful, as a reminder of the state's sports history, to revisit the life and legacy of this Kentucky-born baseball legend.

Here are some quick facts about baseball legend Pee Wee Reese:

Nickname Origin: His nickname "Pee Wee" came from his childhood prowess in marbles, a "pee wee" being a small marble.

Late Bloomer: Pee Wee Reese didn't get into baseball until his senior year of high school because of his small size.

The Little Colonel: While playing for the Double-A Louisville Colonels in the late 1930s, his teammates affectionately referred to him as "The Little Colonel."

Lopsided Trade: Pee Wee Reese was part of one of the most lopsided trades in baseball when he was traded in 1939 from the Boston Red Sox to the Brooklyn Dodgers for $35,000 and four players.

Support for Jackie Robinson: Reese is famous for his support of Jackie Robinson, the first Black player in Major League Baseball. Pee Wee Reese famously put his arm around Robinson in a gesture of support that silenced a heckling crowd, though there is some dispute about whether this occurred in Cincinnati or Boston -- or at all.

Hall of Famer: Reese was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1984.

World Series Win: He was part of the Brooklyn Dodgers team that had their first World Series win in 1955.

Broadcasting Career: After retiring as a player, Pee Wee Reese had a successful career as a baseball broadcaster.

Military Service: Like other players of his era, he served in the military during wartime. Reese enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1943 and saw duty in the Pacific theater during World War II. This caused him to miss three seasons with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Statues: A statue of Reese was erected in front of the main entrance of Louisville Slugger Field in 2000. There also is a statue, unveiled in 2005 outside the minor league Brooklyn Cyclones' home field, of Reese with his arm around Robinson.

Early Life and Origin of the Nickname

Harold Peter Henry "Pee Wee" Reese was born July 23, 1918, in Ekron, Kentucky, a community in Meade County southwest of Louisville.

The nickname Pee Wee originated from his childhood when he was a champion marbles player, because a "pee wee" is a small marble. Though he was slender, especially in his younger years, he would grow to be 5-foot-10.

Who is Pee Wee Reese? Here's his autographed baseball exhibit card.
Photo: Autographed baseball exhibit card of PeeWee Reese a star player for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1940s and 1950s.


Reese spent his early years in Ekron before his family moved to Louisville when he was almost eight years old.

In high school, Pee Wee Reese was so small that he did not play baseball until his senior year, at which time he weighed only 120 pounds and played just six games as a second baseman. He graduated in 1935 from duPont Manual High School, where he played for a legendary high school coach, Ralph Kimmel.

After graduation, Reese worked as a cable splicer for the Louisville phone company and played amateur baseball in a church league. When his team and Pee Wee reached the league championship, the minor league Louisville Colonels allowed them to play the championship game on their field. Reese's performance impressed Colonels owner Cap Neal, who signed him to a contract for a $200 bonus. While playing for the Colonels, he was affectionately referred to by his teammates as "The Little Colonel."

By 1938, Reese was the Colonels' regular shortstop and one of the top prospects in the minors. However, in a twist of fate, the Boston Red Sox traded him to the Brooklyn Dodgers for $35,000 and four players to be named later, in what is now considered one of the most lopsided deals in baseball history.

Harold Henry Reese or Pee Wee Reese stayed in Louisville for the rest of the 1939 season. He was called up to Brooklyn in time for the 1940 season with the Brooklyn Dodgers. (Fans dodging electric trolleys while getting to the team's ballpark in New York were called trolly dodgers. The team shortened that term to Dodgers and keep the nickname after moving to Los Angeles to begin the 1958 season.) He then admitted he was a scared kid at the time.

Baseball Career and Achievements

Pee Wee Reese's baseball career has gone down as one of the most impressive in big league history. He played in Major League Baseball as a shortstop for the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers from 1940 to 1958. A 10-time All-Star, Reese contributed to seven National League championships for the Dodgers and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1984.

Early Career

Reese's rookie season in 1940 was cut short by a broken heel bone that limited him to 84 games. Despite the setback, he managed during one game against the New York Giants to hit a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth inning to beat the crosstown rival.

In 1941, Reese led the league with 47 errors, but he established himself during the 1942 season, making the National League All-Star team for the first of 10 consecutive years and leading National League shortstops in putouts and assists.

Military Service and Return to Baseball

Like others players of his era, Pee Wee Reese missed playing time due to military service. He enlisted in the Navy in 1943, serving in the Pacific theater during World War II. Upon his return in 1946, Reese helped the Brooklyn Dodgers battle the St. Louis Cardinals to a regular-season tie in a tight pennant race that saw both teams finishing with a 96–58 regular season record. The Cardinals defeated the Dodgers in the first-ever MLB three-game, tie-breaker series. St. Louis went on to defeat the Boston Red Sox in the World Series.

Pee Wee Reese dances to a safe decision. Brooklyn won the game 8-5 and win it's only World Series.
Photo: Pee Wee Reese dances to a safe decision


Support for Jackie Robinson

Pee Wee Reese also is known for his support of teammate Jackie Robinson, the first African American player in the major leagues, especially in Robinson's difficult first years. This support was not just about baseball, but it was a significant statement in the fight against racial segregation and discrimination, and the broader struggle for African Americans' rights in the United States. Reese, who was white and from the South, publicly showed his support for Robinson, who faced racial abuse from fans and other players.

One of the most iconic moments in MLB history occurred during a game in Cincinnati when the crowd was heckling Robinson. Reese, the Dodgers' captain, walked over to Robinson, engaged him in conversation and put his arm around his shoulder in a gesture of support that silenced the crowd. Reese's gesture is depicted in a bronze sculpture of Reese and Robinson, created by sculptor William Behrends, which was placed at Maimonides Park (formerly MCU Park) in Brooklyn and unveiled in 2005.

Though some speculation exists that this gesture never occurred, Robinson later wrote about it, though he said it happened in Boston, not Cincinnati.

In his autobiography “I Never Had It Made," Robinson said some of the players in Boston had begun to heckle Reeese.

“They were riding him about being a Southerner and playing ball with a Black man," Robinson wrote. "Without a glance in their direction, he left his position and walked over to me. He put his hand on my shoulder and began talking to me. His words weren’t important. I don’t even remember what he said. It was the gesture of comradeship and support that counted. As he stood talking with me with a friendly arm around my shoulder, he was saying loud and clear, ‘Yell. Heckle. Do anything you want. We came here to play baseball.'"

Reese's support for Robinson was not limited to this single act. Throughout that difficult first year in the major leagues, Reese helped keep Robinson's morale up amid all the abuse.

Pee Wee Reese became good friends with Robinson and was able to use humor to alleviate some of the tension.

Their rapport soon led shortstop Reese and second baseman Robinson to become one of the most effective defensive pairs in the sport's history. The friendship between Reese and Robinson is prominent in Roger Kahn's classic 1972 work, "The Boys of Summer." When Robinson died in 1972, Pee Wee Reese was one of the pallbearers at his funeral.

Later Career

In 1949, Reese had his only league lead in a significant batting category, topping the National League with 132 runs scored. The Dodgers won the pennant again that year, but the Yankees continued to dominate in the World Series. Reese became the Dodgers' team captain in 1950. In 1951, he had his career high in RBI, with 84. In 1952, he led the National League in stolen bases with 30.

In 1955, the Dodgers won their first World Series. Pee Wee Reese had two RBI in Game 2. In Game 7, he singled and scored an insurance run. While in the field, he doubled Gil McDougald off first base after Sandy Amorós made a sensational catch of a Yogi Berra fly ball in left field and relayed the throw to Reese to help preserve the victory.

Career Statistics

In a 16-year major league career, Reese played in 2,166 games, accumulating 2,170 hits in 8,058 at bats for a .269 career batting average along with 126 home runs, 885 runs batted in and an on-base percentage of .366. He retired with a .962 fielding percentage. In 44 World Series games, he batted .272 (46-for-169) with 20 runs, two home runs and 16 RBI.

Later Life and Death

In his later years, Reese worked at Hillerich & Bradsby, makers of Louisville Slugger baseball bats in Kentucky. During the final years of his life, he battled prostate and lung cancer while also recovering from a broken hip. Reese died on Aug. 14, 1999, at his Louisville home.

Statue of Pee Wee Reese at louisville Slugger Field in Louisville Kentucky KY
Photo: Statue of Pee Wee Reese at louisville Slugger Field in Louisville Kentucky KY

Reese's legacy continues in his home state of Kentucky.

His story is a source of pride for many Kentuckians, a tale of a local boy who made it to the big leagues and used his platform to stand up for what is right.

To this day, collectors regard his baseball cards as prized items. John Wilson of Chattanoogan.com once looked back with regret at selling a valuable Pee Wee Reese card.

"Dummy me, the 1953 Pee Wee Reese Bowman was one that I let go, among other treasures," Wilson wrote. "So what that we bought a dinette set out of it. Given the alternative, we should have sat on flour barrels. Especially since that Reese is now known as 'the prettiest card ever made.'"

Kentucky's Rich Tapestry of Sports History

Kentucky, the birthplace of Pee Wee Reese, has always been a state with a rich sports history. From horse racing to basketball, and of course, baseball, Kentucky has produced numerous sports legends, and Harold "Pee Wee" Reese is certainly one of them.

Reese's legacy in Kentucky is the stuff of legend. His story of perseverance and talent, and his stand against racial discrimination, continue to inspire people in Kentucky and beyond. His influence has helped to shape Kentucky's vibrant sports culture, making it a place where sports are not just games, but a way of life.

This September, Kentucky is set to add another chapter to its sports history with the launch of sports betting and a number of Kentucky sports betting promos.

This development is expected to bring a new level of excitement and engagement for sports fans across the state. Just as Reese once captured the attention of sports fans with his remarkable performance on the baseball field, the introduction of sports betting is poised to bring a new dimension to how fans enjoy and interact with their favorite sports.

In a way, the launch of sports betting and betting apps in Kentucky is a testament to the enduring popularity of sports in the state, a popularity that legends like Pee Wee Reese helped to build.

As fans place their bets, they'll be participating in a tradition of sports enthusiasm that athletes like Pee Wee Reese have made possible.

And who knows? Perhaps the next Pee Wee Reese is growing up in Kentucky right now, ready to make their own mark on the world of sports.


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Larry Henry

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