For almost two decades, baseball found it difficult to stage a great game without Pee Wee Reese.
Through 16 major-league seasons that eventually culminated in his election to the Hall of Fame, the diminutive captain of the Brooklyn Dodgers was a pivotal player in many of the game's most memorable encounters.
Among them were Don Larsen's perfect World Series game, the famous Bobby Thomson homer game, a game in which Bill Bevens had a World Series no-hitter going into the ninth only to lose to the Dodgers, and the game in which the Dodgers finally won a World Series.
Reese played in seven World Series and the former 160-pound shortstop isn't easily impressed by modern baseball drama.
"Last year's playoffs and World Series were very entertaining, but they were also very sloppy," says Reese, 68, who arrived in Dodgertown as one of 13 Hall of Famers acting as instructors in the Ultimate Fantasy Camp. "Some of the moves made or not made by the managers may have been a little suspect last year, but that's also an aspect of what made the games so exciting.
"The fans watching the game can say to each other, 'Why didn't so-and-so bunt?' and that kind of second-guessing makes for a lot of interest."
Reese's career ended in 1958 but he waited until 1984 until his plaque hung in Cooperstown, N.Y. From 1948-1955, he never scored less than 94 runs in a season and he batted .272 in Brooklyn's seven World Series. After five World Series losses to the Yankees, the Dodgers broke through in '55 to provide Reese with his most thrilling moment.
"I was already 37 years old and starting to think that I'd never play for a world champion," Reese recalls. "New York won the sixth game in 1955 to force one game for the championship and we had Johnny Podres pitching. He had already beaten the Yankees in Game 2 and we had a 2-0 lead in the sixth. They put runners on first and second with nobody out and Podres was pitching to Yogi Berra.
"We had put Sandy Amoros in left field and moved Junior Gilliam to second at the start of the inning and Yogi slices a ball down the left field line, heading away from Amoros. Sandy manages somehow to make a great catch, throws the ball to me and we double Gil McDougald off first base. That play saved the game and we got out of that inning still ahead 2-0. When Elston Howard hit the ball to me for the final out of the game and we had finally beaten the Yankees, it was the greatest feeling I ever had."
Just four years earlier, Reese experienced his low point in baseball as the most dramatic home run in the sport's history sailed over the left-field wall at the Polo Grounds.
The Giants won 37 of their final 44 games to close a 13-game deficit and tie the Dodgers for the NL pennant. On Oct. 3, in the rubber game of the 3-game playoff, the Dodgers led 4-1 heading into the ninth. The Giants strung together three hits to pull within 4-2 with one out and pitcher Don Newcombe was replaced by Ralph Branca.
"We got three runs in front and everyone figured we were gonna win," Reese says. "We tried to keep the ball up and in on Bobby Thomson, who was a good ballplayer. He had a good year but we never dreamed they could catch us with the ballclub we had. When Thomson hit the ball, I knew it was gone and I thought to myself, 'We've got to have another chance, this can't be happening to us.' Nobody said a word in the dressing room after the game ... I'm talking about grown men walking around with tears in their eyes."
Reese, who also played in Don Larsen's perfect World Series game in 1956, looks back at his career with few regrets.
"We were always in the middle of something with those Dodger teams," he says. "I feel like I was the most fortunate guy in the world to play in all those great games. I played with the first black ballplayer (Jackie Robinson) in the majors and I was in seven World Series. With a career like that, how could I spend time worrying about going into the Hall of Fame?"