It’s not hard to find nice things to say about Pee Wee Reese. He was the heart and soul of one of the most colorful and beloved teams in baseball history. He was one of the true heroes of the Jackie Robinson story (even if no one can seem to agree exactly where the famous cross-racial “attaboy” took place). And if Duke Snider says he was “the finest person I think I ever met,” who are we to argue?
But while the obituaries for the Hall of Fame shortshop emphasize his intangible contributions, what about Reese’s tangibles? By the standards set by today’s slugging shortstops, Reese’s stats seem downright tame. Alex Rodriguez, for example, has hit more home runs at age 24 (137) than Reese hit in his whole career (126). Still, comparing Reese to his contemporaries paints a different picture. While Reese and Yankee shortstop Phil Rizzuto have been joined at the hip by history, a closer look at the numbers suggests that— sorry, Scooter— Reese was simply way better.
Because he played 500 games more than Rizzuto (in itself an indication of Pee Wee’s superiority), Reese leads in every “counting” category— hits, runs, homers— in some cases more than doubling the totals of his Yankee rival. And while Reese trails in batting average (.266 to .273) he holds comfortable leads in slugging (.377 vs. .355) and on-base percentage (.366 vs. .351).
Reese was also named to 10 consecutive All-Star teams, compared to Rizzuto’s five total nods, and led the NL in walks, stolen bases, and runs scored once each, while Rizzuto never led the league in any offensive category. Fielding stats suggest that Pee Wee was at least Phil’s equal. Finally, let’s not forget that Reese received more Hall of Fame votes than Rizzuto every single year they were both on the ballot. So while it’s fitting to remember Pee Wee Reese as a helluva nice guy, we’d like to remind you that he was a helluva ballplayer, too.
What the media didn’t see in Steffi
When Barry Sanders retired a few weeks ago, the lead of virtually every story mentioned that he was retiring only 1400 yards short of Walter Payton’s career rushing record. And yet when Steffi Graf hung up her racket for good last week, no one mentioned— let alone complained— that she was quitting only a single victory shy of Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles. Clearly an isolated case of sexism in postBrandi Chastain sports journalism.
Court’s is clearly the most important record in tennis— the men’s mark of 12 held by Roy Emerson and recently tied by Pete Sampras is tainted by the fact that, before 1968, the slams were amateur-only affairs, and the best men, like Rod Laver, Bill Tilden, and Don Budge turned pro after winning a few. Court, like Graf, must get serious consideration as the greatest female player of all time. And it’s not like Graf was limping toward immortality. She captured this year’s French— beating the top three players in the world, Lindsay Davenport, Monica Seles, and Martina Hingis, consecutively. And at Wimbledon, she stopped Venus Williams on her way to the finals. The third-ranked Graf would have arrived at Flushing Meadows later this month as one of the favorites. Her sudden departure stands in marked contrast to Billie Jean King’s— and later Martina Navratilova’s— dogged pursuit of the record for Wimbledon titles, which included playing doubles after her chance for a singles title was long past. If there’s a silver lining to Graf’s announcement, it might be that her most infamous fan— Guenther Parche, who stabbed Monica Seles, an act that paved the way for probably 10 of Graf’s titles— won’t get the satisfaction of watching Fräulein Forehand march into the record book.
Contributors: Allen St. John, Andrew Hsiao, Ramona Debs
Sports editor: Miles D. Seligman Sports editor: Joshua D. Gaynor
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 17, 1999