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 teamates held their captain.
"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."
©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed