Hall of Fame shortstop Pee Wee Reese led the Brooklyn Dodgers to seven National League pennants and the 1955 World Series title but he left a far greater mark on baseball -- and America.

Reese, who died today at 81 in his home town of Louisville, stood with Jackie Robinson when he broke baseball's color line in 1947.

"There is no precedent for what Pee Wee did in regard to his contribution to social change in the United States," teammate Carl Erskine said in 1984 at Reese's Hall of Fame induction.

"Being a Southern boy, Pee Wee was under enormous pressure from his home town when Jackie joined the club, but throughout it all he remained objective and projected a leadership quality that was a major factor in helping Jackie make it."

Reese, an eight-time all-star, broke into the major leagues in 1940. His steady glove, clutch hitting and leadership made him the hero of Brooklyn fans.

"Brooklyn was the most wonderful city a man could play in and the fans there were the most loyal there were," he said at Cooperstown in 1984.

He played 16 seasons with the Dodgers -- interrupted by a three-year stint in the Navy during World War II -- and retired after the 1958 season, the Dodgers' first in Los Angeles.

"He was the heart and soul of the `Boys of Summer,' " longtime Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully said. "If a player needed to be consoled, Pee Wee would console him. If a player needed to be kicked in the fanny, Pee Wee would do that, too. If a player really needed a friend, Pee Wee was there for him."

The Dodgers captain was especially there for Robinson, who faced hostile opponents and fans when he became the first black man to play in the major leagues.

When Reese heard the Dodgers planned to bring a black player to the big leagues, he treated it with remarkable objectivity for an era when Jim Crow still ruled the South.

"Jackie Robinson had the toughest job any man ever had in sports," said Reese, who added he learned more "about living" from Robinson than vice versa.

"Pee Wee was one of the guys on the Dodgers who we -- I mean the black guys -- could look to for leadership," said pitcher Don Newcombe, who played eight years with Reese. "Jackie would tell us who the nice guys were and who wasn't. And Pee Wee was surely one of the nice guys -- one you could trust. It's an enormous loss for this country."