Wednesday, May 29, 2013

What Could Have Been: Pete Reiser

Washington Nationals' young star outfielder Bryce Harper is missing a few games this week for an injury he sustained from running into an outfield wall at Dodger Stadium couple weeks ago.  From this, I can't help being reminded of former Brooklyn Dodger outfielder of Pete Reiser.
1948 Bowman

Pete Reiser was signed out of high school in 1937 with St. Louis Cardinals.  He went to play for Cardinals in their new farm system designed by Branch Rickey.  Rickey felt in order to compete with the big markets such as New York or Boston, he had to sign and develop players on his own.  One year later, though, MLB Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis viewed that the Cardinals had stockpiled so much talent among their minor league teams that it was against the best interests of baseball.  Landis released dozens of players, one of which was one of Rickey's prized possession, Reiser.
Reiser signed with Brooklyn Dodgers as an agreement between Rickey and his pal, Larry MacPhail of the Dodgers that the Brooklyn would sign and hide him in the minors and trade Reiser back to St. Louis at a later time.   Reiser played so well during spring trainings and in the minor leagues, he forced MacPhail's hand and was added to Brooklyn's squad in 1940 as a part timer.
As Ted Williams and Joe Dimaggio were stealing headlines for their historical seasons in 1941, Reiser had a season to remember also.  Reiser led the league in hitting, doubles, triples, runs scored and slugging. He also started in the All Star game and finished 2nd in the MVP voting.
Reiser proved 1941 was no fluke season as he started his second All Star game and had his average above .380 after getting hits in 19 out of 21 at bats before a July game vs the Cardinals. In that game, Cardinals' star, Enos Slaughter hit a ball to deep centefield.  Reiser chased it with his usual reckless style and slammed into the brick outfield wall.  He was carried off the field and checked into the hospital.  Diagnosed with a fractured skull and a brain injury, the doctors recommended not playing for the rest of the year.  Reiser refused and sat only a handful of games. His game and Dodgers subsequently suffered because of this.
In 1942, he joined the Army for World  War II.  While in service, Reiser suffered pneumonia and was to be discharged, but a commanding officer recognized Reiser and put him on the Army baseball team.  While playing for them Reiser suffered a shoulder injury.
By 1946, Reiser returned to the Dodgers but was not the same player as he once was.  The previous injuries did not deter Reiser playing his usual all out style.  It is estimated he was carried off the field eleven times in his career and was given his last rites once in the dugout.  Reiser's form manager, Leo Durocher once said of his star outfielder, "He had everything but luck".
Reiser's career ended in 1952 after stints with the Braves, Pirates and Indians.  Reiser's stardom never came to fruition and was never again compared to his couterparts in Williams and Dimaggio. For the Dodgers, a healthy Reiser in the lineup could have reversed some of the World Series battles against the Yankees towards Brooklyn's way.

Of course, Bryce Harper is fortunate to play in era of padded walls, warning tracks and more precautions for concussions, so Harper's fate is unlikey to be the same as Pete Reiser's.  But is hard not think of Reiser when one watches Harper go all out for a ball and hopefully these two will not be talked about together again.

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