This week The Post takes a fresh look at the “best of” New York sports history – areas that are just worthy of debate, but that have been argued incessantly. Today’s edition: the best double-play combo.
There is greatness, and then there is impact.
To contribute one assures you of a place in history. To achieve both? Well, that’s one heck of a double play.
Of course, Pee Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson get the nod for the best second base-shortstop pair in New York baseball history. Both men earned plaques at the Hall of Fame. While the pinstriped duos of Bucky Dent / Willie Randolph and Tony Kubek / Bobby Richardson and the Mets ‘Edgardo Alfonzo / Rey Ordonez deserve honorable mention for their superiority and team success, none of the six have joined the Brooklyn Dodgers’ twin-killing duo in. Cooperstown, though Kubek did not receive the Hall’s Ford C. Frick Award for his broadcasting prowess.
Yet the fact that the two men hold a special place in the hearts and minds of those who never even saw them play, that their bond holds as much resonance as ever, speaks volumes to their impact.
“It’s all about equality,” Sharon Robinson, Jackie’s daughter, said in a telephone interview. “A white man and a black man playing important infield positions, and with equal power and strength, they do this amazing play.”
Jackie Robinson of course broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier, becoming the first post-1900 African-American player when he joined the Dodgers in 1947; He actually played first base exclusively that season before shifting to the keystone in 1948. He worked as Reese’s primary middle-infield partner through 1952, and the two men combined for 67.1 wins above replacement, as per Baseball-Reference, as the Dodgers won two. National League pennants, finished second twice and third once.
“They were the centerpiece of our defense,” said Carl Erskine, who pitched for the Dodgers from 1948 through 1959. “They were smart, consistent and outstanding.”
Erskine, 93, continued, “The unique thing about Jackie playing second base, he was so quick. I never saw him backhand a ball. He always got in front of it. … Jackie wasn’t an acrobat. He looks like a ballet dancer. He was a strong, well-built individual. He was like a steelworker. He would stomp on the bag and make a throw two feet off the ground. “
The right-hander praised Reese for his mastery at putting himself in the right place and pulling off a tricky pickoff play at second base.
Robinson moved to left field in 1953 and then third base in 1955; He totaled 36 games at second from ’53 through ’56, at which point he retired. While he played alongside other future Hall of Famers like Roy Campanella, Sandy Koufax and Duke Snider, his relationship with Reese stands out to the extent that the Brooklyn Cyclones, the Mets’ Class-A affiliate, honored the pair in 2005 with a statue at. MCU Park.
That statue, featuring Reese with his arm around Robinson, has sparked some discussion of its own. Its genesis, a supposed incident early in Robinson’s career in which Reese stuck it to hostile, racist fans at a road game by publicly backing his teammate on the field, may never have happened. The Robinson family lobbied to have the statue depict the two men in action, turning two, and the boy prevail.
However, the family embraces the statue and its meaning: Not so much as notions of acceptance or tolerance as the word Sharon Robinson chose, “equality.” That term “equalizes the power,” she pointed out.
We find ourselves intensifying racial relations once more in the wake of George Floyd’s alleged murder at the hands of Minneapolis police officers. Asked how she thought her father, who died in 1972, would feel about the current state of affairs, Sharon Robinson said, “I think he would be, as we were, just devastated. Yet we very much believe in protests, and protest marches, and have a voice. He would be very proud of the young people who have mobilized and are out there. “
That we wonder what Jackie would want the thought of, that we view him and Pee Wee as role models for diversity and equality as well as excellence, speaks to the two men’s greatness and impact. More than half a century after they last worked together, they remain the gold standard for their field in every way.