The captain and the conscience of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Pee Wee Reese, stood in the sun before last night's Dodger-Yankee World Series opener wearing a handsome tan jacket, dark slacks and black shoes.
At 57, his face is softly lined, his hair still thick and dark, his manner as warm and bouncy as it was more than 30 years ago when he was the shortstop on Brooklyn's best teams.
Reese is a representative of the Louisville Slugger bat manufacturer and his visit was as much professional as emotional. On this day nobody asked him about bats.
The questions were about the death of another teammate, Jim Gilliam, so early at 49, cut down in middle life as had happened to Billy Cox and Jackie Robinson and Gil Hodges.
"I heard it on the radio," Reese said, "and I couldn't believe it. Jackie. Gil. Billy. Now Jim. I remember the first time he came around [as a Dodger rockie] and Jackie, who was getting heavier, worked out at third base and I know something was up."
Robinson, who had won the Louisville Colonel's respect and a warm public embrace, was now a third baseman as Gilliam took over second base in 1953.
"He didn't make a big splash in that first camp," Reese recalled. "He was a quiet fellow, not very big. I mean it wasn't like Frank Howard coming to camp the first time."
Reese said he had to pause and think about the passing years and the short lives of some of his teammates when he heard about Gilliam.
"You know, even more than that, I guess I though about Campy when I heard about it. Look at the way he has lived, look at his will to live," said Reese.
The Brooklyn Dodgers catcher. Roy Campanella, was rippled in an automobile accident in January 1958, just before he was to leave for spring training for the first time with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The young Dodges that author Roger Kahn visited and immortalized in their middle age as "The Boys of Summer," were as close a team as ever existed. When the Dodgers win many of them show up here. Among other ex-Dodgers here were Carl Erskine and Don Zimmer.
"I just think it's a coincidence," said former pitcher Erskine, now an Anderson, Ind, businessman. "If you take 50 high school classmates and look them up 30 years later, I'm sure a half a dozen or so will have died untimely deaths."
"Ahh," said Zimmer, the Boston manger, "I don't even like to talk about it." Zimmer came close to death twice as a player as a result of beanings.
"I remember when I went to Gil's funeral and I saw how bad Jackie looked. A little while later he was gone. It's eerie sure. I hope this is the last one for a long long time," said Reese.
The Dodgers look the field last night wearing Gilliam's number 19 sewn on the left sleeve of their uniforms. The Boys of Summer remember.