Seeing Corky Miller in a Louisville uniform at Slugger Field isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t unusual. After all, the former Reds catcher is the de facto Ã¢â‚¬Å“Mayor of Louisville,Ã¢â‚¬Â as Sean Casey is in Cincinnati.
But on Saturday night a couple of weeks ago, it was a special evening for Louisville baseball fans. Two numbers were retired in a pregame ceremony at Slugger Field — one was worn by Jackie Robinson and the other by Louisville native Pee Wee Reese.
CorkyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s #8 has already been retired by the Bats and will now be joined by 42 and 2.
As most of our readers already know, Reese and Robinson were teammates and the double-play combination for the powerful Brooklyn Dodger teams of the 1950s. Reese was the Captain for the Dodgers and his acceptance, friendship, and support of Robinson as the first black baseball player in the major leagues was an important ingredient in the success of the Dodgers.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“To Pee Wee, Jackie was a man, a friend, and a teammate,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Reese Dudgeon, grandson of Pee Wee. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Pee Wee never made Jackie anything special. He was just being a team captain.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s awesome that they are honoring him tonight, especially on his 100th birthday,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Reese of his grandfather. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Growing up in Louisville, I knew he was famous but I wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t really aware of his impact on baseball until I went to Cooperstown and the Hall of Fame.Ã¢â‚¬Â
If you watched the movie ’42,’ there’s a scene in which Reese supports Robinson on the field during some vicious heckling. A statue depicting that is in Brooklyn. But there’s still a debate whether that actually happened. Some say it occurred at Crosley Field in May 1947. Duke Snider was quoted as stating it happened in Boston.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Pee Wee never talked about that incident but he was that way,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Reese, who now lives in Indianapolis. Pee WeeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s grandson also threw out the ceremonial first pitch in LouisvilleÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s eventual 4-2 victory over Rochester, a game in which lefty Cody Reed pitched very well. Ã¢â‚¬Å“This is special, very special to our family.Ã¢â‚¬Â
It was a special night. There’s a statue of Pee Wee Reese at the main entrance of Slugger Field in Louisville.
I always use Pee Wee Reese as a benchmark for why Dave Concepcion should be in the Hall of Fame. Their statistics are similar and their play at a vital position to a true powerhouse team of their respective era cannot be debated.
Pee Wee was the ultimate Dodger; he bled Dodger blue. For Louisville to honor him is classy. By the same token, Dave Concepcion had the same importance to the Big Red Machine and the Cincinnati Reds.
It’s a shame Hall of Fame voters never got that.
(Photo above: Rick Ring)