Boys of Summer' Gather to Remember Reese
Wednesday, August 18th 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- Brooklyn Dodger teammates attending Pee
Wee Reese's funeral Wednesday remembered the Hall of Fame shortstop
as a man among the Boys of Summer.
"He was the tradition, he was the greatest Dodger of them
all," center fielder Duke Snider said.
Snider recalled a trip to Hawaii with Reese and Don Zimmer to
attend the baseball winter meetings. "They had a big chair there
that was called the `Kahuna chair,' " he said. "Zimmer said to
him, `Captain, that's your chair.' "
Some 2,000 people attended Reese's funeral at Southeast
Christian Church. The eight-time All-Star, who played on seven
pennant winners and one World Series champion in Brooklyn, died
Saturday at age 81 after a two-year fight with lung cancer.
Among the mourners were nearly all the surviving regulars from
the Brooklyn glory years of the 1940s and '50s: Snider; Zimmer (who
took a temporary leave from his post as bench coach of the New York
Yankees); Joe Black; Don Newcombe; Carl Erskine; Ralph Branca;
Clyde King -- even the deeply private Sandy Koufax.
"He was a teammate for four years, a friend for 40," Koufax
said. "What is there to say?"
Rachel Robinson, widow of Jackie Robinson, said Reese's
leadership helped hold the Dodgers together in 1947, the year her
husband broke major league baseball's color barrier.
A Kentucky native, Reese first refused to sign a petition that
threatened a boycott if Robinson joined the team. Then, as Robinson
was being heckled by fans in Cincinnati during the Dodgers' first
road trip, Reese went over to him and put his arm around Robinson's
shoulder in a gesture of inclusion and support.
Back in New York, Mrs. Robinson heard what Reese had done.
"I thought it was a very supportive gesture, and very
instinctive on Pee Wee's part," she said. "You shouldn't forget
that Pee Wee was the captain, and he led the way."
"Think of the guts that took," said Erskine, a pitcher on that
team. "Pee Wee had to go home (to segregated Louisville) and
answer to his friends. ... I told Jackie later that (Reese's
gesture) helped my race more than his."
Southeast minister Bob Russell eulogized Reese, who followed his
playing career with one in broadcasting, in a 45-minute service
which included video clips and a rendition of "Amazing Grace."
"There have been a lot of great baseball players, a lot of
well-known announcers," Russell said. "Pee Wee Reese is more
remembered for being a good man, a gentleman, a leader, a
competitor, a courageous person."
Russell noted that "Teammates," a book about Reese and
Robinson and the friendship that grew between them, is now used to
teach racial tolerance in some elementary schools.
Former Dodgers owner Peter O'Malley, whose father moved the team
from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, was impressed as a teen-ager by the
esteem in which Reese's Boys of Summer teammates held their
"Pee Wee had something, today you'd call it people skills,"
O'Malley said. "He knew how to communicate. I think he would have
been an extraordinary manager."
Former Green Bay Packers running back Paul Hornung, also a
resident of Louisville, remembered golfing with Reese and traveling
with him to sign autographs at sports shows.
"It was really something special when we went to New York," he
said. "His lines were as long as (Joe) DiMaggio's."
That kind of love and admiration had as much to do with Reese's
personality as with his sparkling play in the field, Snider said.
"I'm not all that analytical to be able to put into words what
it was," he said. "Whenever anyone needed any help, you went to
Pee Wee, or he went to them. He was very concerned about each
individual on the ball club and their happiness. Whenever anyone
was having family problems, or in a slump, he'd help them out.
"It was the way he handled himself."