Year Inducted: 1984 (Veterans Committee)
Until the 1950’s, shortstops almost by definition didn’t put up big offensive totals. They were mostly smaller guys that were fast, had quick reflexes and could field well. Then, in 1953, Ernie Banks comes along and hits for power and shortstop slowly evolves as a position that required no offense to at least requiring a competent bat. This was further pushed in the 1980’s when Cal Ripken started his career, and came full circle in the 1990’s with Derek Jeter, Miguel Tejada, Nomar Garciaparra, and a slew of others. It makes it hard to remember a time when shortstops didn’t have to hit for power to be noticed as great shortstops. The paradigm shift helps explain why a player like Pee Wee Reese had to wait for the Veterans Committee to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Reese played in 2166 games in his career, all for the Dodgers. He was one of the top shortstops in the game, hitting .269/.366/.377 with a wRC+ of 103. Among all shortstops who played during Reese’s career, he had: the second most doubles (330), the most triples (80), the fifth most homers (126), the second most RBI (885) and the most runs scored (1338). Reese was probably not the best offensive shortstop of the time (Lou Boudreau was the bearer of that crown), but he certainly was amongst the best. He did supplement his league average offense by being a phenomenal baserunner. Reese was worth 30 runs above average on the basepaths and stole over 200 bases in his career.
While he was a slightly above average offensive player, he was a tremendous defender. Reese had more putouts (4040), assists (5891), double plays (1246) and defensive runs (241.7) than any other shortstop in his career. It’s not hyperbole to suggest that Reese was the best defensive shortstop of his time.
There were three things holding Reese back from gaining induction via the BBWAA. The first is his low batting average. Without a .300 batting average, even with his great defense he would have struggled to gain prominence against other players on the ballot. The second is his career length and lack of milestone numbers. Reese lost 3 prime years to the war so he failed to get milestone numbers like 3000 hits or 1000 RBI, which meant that he didn’t have standout numbers. The third was the fairly quick evolution of shortstops while Reese was on the ballot. With Banks quickly gaining prominence, followed by the onset of players like Ripken, pushed Reese further back in the collective consciousness.
None of this should take away from how great Reese was as a player. He remains fairly underrated today, and is probably most known for throwing his arm around Jackie Robinson (an event that is debated about its authenticity). Reese was a great shortstop and well deserving of his induction.
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