As the 1981 World Series outfielders tread the warning tracks and bump the padded walls in pursuit of fly balls, they might think of Pete Reiser, who died in Palm Springs, Calif., a few hours after Sunday's Game 5. This Dodger of yore was as responsible as anybody for inspiring those safety measures.
And if such protection had been provided in his day, Harold Patrick (born March 17, 1919) Reiser might be in baseball's Hall of Fame.
Reiser (with Pee Wee Reese) broke in with Brooklyn in midseason 1940, then in '41 stamped himself a potential all-time great: he led the National League in batting (.343), slugging (.558), doubles (39), triples (17) and runs (117). In center field, he could do it all -- and did too much. Chroniclers counted 11 times the fearless "Pistol Pete" ran into the fences and got hurt. He was never quite the same player after a crash into the wall in St. Louis, 1942, inflicted a severe concussion -- first of seven, plus five skull fractures. Still, he starred on military teams the next three years and, back with the Dodgers in '46, led the NL with 34 stolen bases -- including a record seven thefts of home.
Reiser's career (.295) tailed away as a part-timer with three other clubs and he was through by 1952. He later coached for the Dodgers and Cubs. Lingering respiratory illness killed him; his wife, Pat, said he was aware, vaguely, the Dodgers had defeated the Yankees (to whom his Dodgers lost in the Series of '41 and '47) -- and that he "had wanted most of all to see his (first) grandson baptized." The boy, 3 months, was baptized Sunday; Reiser died that night.