Pee Wee Reese, 81, the baseball Hall of Fame shortstop whose bat, glove and savvy helped the old Brooklyn Dodgers to their greatest glories, and who also was admired for his steadfast support of pioneering teammate Jackie Robinson, died Aug. 14, it was reported in Los Angeles, where the Dodgers play now. He had suffered from cancer.
During 16 years on the field for the Dodgers, Mr. Reese played in 2,166 games, almost all of them in Brooklyn, where he was revered as the captain of a fiercely competitive outfit that won the National League pennant seven times and was as dear to the hearts of its fans as any team in professional sports.
He made 2,170 hits, compiled a batting average of .269 and was known for his skillful play at shortstop, the most demanding of infield positions, and for his shrewd baseball judgment. In seven appearances at the World Series, he made 46 hits, putting him among the top 10 batters in the history of the baseball championships. He was eight times a member of his league's all-star team.
As much as he was known for these accomplishments, he was esteemed for the quiet firmness with which he stood up for Robinson, who came to the Dodgers in 1947 as the first black man to play major league baseball.
When Robinson reported to Dodger spring training, Reese was reported to be the first of the players to come up to him and shake his hand. Reese, who had joined the team in 1940 and served in the Navy during World War II, also was reported to have defused an incipient clubhouse rebellion against the idea of bringing a black player to baseball.
Early in Robinson's career on the Dodgers, at a time when he was expected to withstand the abuse of opposing fans and players without response, a day came in Cincinnati, across the Ohio River from Reese's native Kentucky, when the vituperation appeared to be more scurrilous than ever.
"Pee Wee kind of sensed the sort of hopeless, dead feeling in me and came over and stood beside me for a while," Robinson told a biographer. "He didn't say a word, but he looked over at the chaps who were yelling at me . . . and just stared. He was standing by me, I could tell you that."
It was regarded as a turning point in Robinson's acceptance and by extension, in the fall of the color line.
"I will never forget it," Robinson was quoted as saying.
Reese and Robinson played together for 10 years, forming the heart of the infield of a Dodger team whose verve and ability has become part of American legend. In 1949, a sportswriter estimated that Reese was paid $25,000 a year, Robinson $20,000.
Harold H. Reese was born July 23, 1919, in the town of Ekron. He was short as a boy, although the nickname Pee Wee came not from his stature but from a type of marble used in a game that was commonly played by youths. Mr. Reese won a national marbles championship at 13.
He played a few games of high school baseball, but as his talent blossomed, and he grew to 5 feet 10, he soon became a star of the Louisville Colonels minor league team. The Dodgers bought him in 1940, and he played in his first World Series, against the Yankees, in 1941.
The Yankees won that series; over the years of Mr. Reese's tenure in New York City, fans argued endlessly over the relative merits of Mr. Reese and his Yankee counterpart, Phil Rizzuto, also a Hall of Fame member.
CAPTION: From left, Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson and Preacher Roe celebrate after winning the third game of the World Series in New York City on Oct. 3, 1952.