Harold Patrick "Pete" Reiser (March 17, 1919 - October 25, 1981), nicknamed "Pistol Pete," was an outfielder in Major League Baseball during the 1940s and early 1950s. He played primarily for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and later for the Boston Braves, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Cleveland Indians.
A native of St. Louis, Missouri, Reiser originally signed with his hometown Cardinals, but at age 19 he was among a group of minor league players declared free agents by Commissioner of Baseball Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Reportedly, Cardinal general manager Branch Rickey — mortified at losing a player of Reiser's caliber — arranged for the Dodgers to sign Reiser, hide him in the minors, then trade him back to St. Louis at a later date. But Reiser's stellar performances in spring training in both 1939 and 1940 forced the Dodgers to keep him. (Rickey would become GM of the Dodgers after the 1942 season, and witness Reiser's injury-caused decline as a great talent.)
As a rookie in 1941, Reiser helped the Dodgers take home the pennant. He was a sensation that year, winning the National League batting title and also leading the league in doubles, triples, runs scored, and slugging percentage. The following season, he was hitting .383 until he ran into a concrete outfield wall while running at full speed. That incident robbed him of any more effective play that year, and caused Brooklyn's drop in the NL standings.
Reiser gave great effort on every play in the field, and was therefore very injury-prone. He fractured his skull running into an outfield wall on one occasion (but still made the throw back to the infield), was temporarily paralyzed on another, and was taken off the field on a stretcher a record 11 times. Pete was once given his last rites in the ballpark.
Leo Durocher, who was Reiser's first major league manager, reflected many years later that in terms of talent, skill, and potential, there was only one other player comparable to Reiser - Willie Mays. Durocher also said that "Pete had more power than Willie — left-handed and right-handed both. He had everything but luck."
Reiser, a switch hitter who sometimes restricted himself to batting left-handed because of injury, served in the United States Army during World War II, playing baseball for Army teams. While serving, he was injured again and had to learn to throw with both arms. Durocher said, "And he could throw at least as good as Willie [Mays] right-handed and left-handed."
When Reiser returned to the majors in 1946, he was still suffering from a shoulder injury from playing Army baseball. He later said: "It wasn't as serious as the head injuries but it did more to end my career. The shoulder kept popping out of place, more bone chips developed, and there was constant pain in the arm and shoulder."
He was never the same hitter that he was early in his career. However, he still retained his speed and stole home plate a record seven times in 1946.
Reiser managed in the minors for several years (including the Kokomo Dodgers in 1956-57, among others), winning the 1959 Minor League Manager of the Year Award from The Sporting News. He served as a coach on Walter Alston's Los Angeles Dodger staff from 1960–1964 (including the 1963 world championship team). However, he was forced to step down in 1965 as skipper of the AAA Spokane Indians as the result of a heart attack. His replacement was Duke Snider — the man who had once replaced Reiser as the center fielder for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
When Leo Durocher was named manager of the Chicago Cubs in 1966, he brought many of his former players to coach on his staff. Reiser was one of them (1966–1969; 1972–1974). He coached for the California Angels (1970–1971), as well.
In 1981, Lawrence Ritter and Donald Honig included him in their book The 100 Greatest Baseball Players of All Time. They explained what they called "the Smoky Joe Wood Syndrome," where a truly exceptional player had a career curtailed by injury, in spite of not having had career statistics that would quantitatively rank him with the all-time greats, should still be included on their list of the 100 greatest players.
- List of Major League Baseball batting champions
- List of Major League Baseball runs scored champions
- List of Major League Baseball stolen base champions
- List of Major League Baseball doubles champions
- List of Major League Baseball triples champions
- ↑ Golenbock, Peter. Bums: An Oral History of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
- ↑ http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=7410105
- ↑ Durocher, Leo. Nice Guys Finish Last.
- ↑ Honig, Donald. Baseball When the Grass Was Real.
- ↑ Boyle, Robert H. (2 September 1957). Pete In The Bush, Sports Illustrated, Retrieved December 10, 2010 (detailed article profiling Reiser at Kokomo)
- ↑ (27 October 1981). Reckless Reiser Dead at 62, Windsor Star, Retrieved December 10, 2010 ("for two years managed the Kokomo Dodgers in the Class D Midwest League")
|National League Batting Champion|
|National League Stolen Base Champion|