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Jimmie Reese

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James Herman Reese
born Hyman Solomon

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[edit] Biographical Information

Jimmie Reese lived a life out of an Horatio Alger story. He was born Hyman Solomon, the son of Jewish Russian immigrants in New York City. An orphan as a young boy, his mother took him to California where he grew up in the San Pedro, CA area. The Navy set up a large facility there to build submarines at the time of World War I, and he hung around the base, scrounging pennies by selling newspapers, and hanging around the baseball diamonds used by sailors for recreation. He got his start in professional baseball at age 15 as a batboy for the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League in 1917, beginning a record 77-year career in baseball. He left school and lied about his age to play semi-pro ball around southern California. He practices relentlessly, pushed by an inordinate love of the game, and eventually became a fabulous fielder at second base, one of the best anyone had ever seen. During that period, he played 3 games for the Angels at age 18 in 1920, but would have to wait a few more years to join the quasi-major league PCL for good.

[edit] 1924-1929 in the PCL

In 1924, Jimmie began a long run with the Oakland Oaks, posting averages of .188, .248, .267, .295, .247 and .337 in his six years there. He is listed as being sold to the New York Yankees for Lyn Lary and $100,000 in September of 1927 but was still with Oakland for two years after that. Songwriter Harry Ruby and Ike Danning once played an exhibition game with celebrities and PCL players. Danning and Ruby decided to forgo signals and use Yiddish to communicate, not aware that Reese was Jewish. Jimmie went 4 for 4 that day.

[edit] 1930-1932 in the majors

Debuting with the Yankees in 1930, the 28-year-old hit .346/.382/.489 in 77 games while backing up Tony Lazzeri. He was assigned as Babe Ruth's roommate and famously joked that in reality, he roomed with Ruth's suitcase. He said Ruth treated him "like a son." In 1931, Reese returned to earth, hitting .241/.293/.335 and playing in 65 games. That winter, he became the player to be named later in part of a deal to the St. Paul Saints for Johnny Murphy and Jack Saltzgaver.

Reese hit .265 for St. Paul in 1932 and also batted .265/.314/.333 in 90 games for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1932 to wrap up his major league playing career with a .278/.324/.373 line as the regular second baseman.

[edit] 1933-1940: Back to the minors

Reese went to the LA Angels to come full-circle in 1933. He hit .330, .311, .297 and .270 in four years with LA, then .314 and .232 in two years for the San Diego Padres. He played for two Western International League teams in 1939 but hit just .179 in limited time and finished up with scant time in Los Angeles in 1940. In 2003 he was elected to the Pacific Coast League Hall of Fame. He set PCL fielding records with 9,890 total chances for his career and 1,294 in one season. One publication named him the second baseman on the all-time PCL team, largely because of his fielding prowess. He was compared to Hall of Famer Eddie Collins in terms of fielding ability.

[edit] Coaching career

After retiring, Reese was a coach for the PCL Angels from 1940 to 1942. He managed an Army service team at Camp Campbell in Kentucky in 1942. He was a scout for the Boston Braves in 1945-1946.

Reese began a long association with the San Diego Padres in 1948. He was a coach from 1948 to 1960, replacing George Metkovich as manager on July 23rd. He remained as manager until resigning on July 6th of the next year. He was a coach for the Hawaii Islanders in 1963-1964, the Seattle Angels in 1965-1968, and Hawaii again in 1969. He coached for the Portland Beavers in 1970 and scouted for the Montreal Expos in 1971-1972.

Reese then was a conditioning coach with the California Angels from 1973 until his death. Reese was most famed for his skill as a fungo batter, known for hitting a flagpole on the first try and playing golf with a fungo bat and putter. He was good enough that he could pitch batting practice with the bat, but he mainly used it to sharpen his players' reflexes, hitting ground balls at the edge of their range. He was the third person to have his number, 50, retired by the Angels, following Nolan Ryan and Rod Carew. Ryan had named one of his sons Reese in Jimmie's honor. In 1992, he was honorary captain of the American League All-Star team. After Jimmie died, his locker at Anaheim Stadium was encased in Plexiglas.

But above all, Reese was a walking encyclopedia of the game. His baseball life spanned almost a half century; he had witnessed Swede Risberg of the infamous Chicago "Black Sox" play before he was a major leaguer, and he coached stars like Jim Edmonds or Tim Salmon who played into the 21st century, and he remembered all of the thousands of players he had faced, coached or watched over the years. A gregarious man beloved by kids, he was universally remembered as one of the kindest and most generous human beings anyone had ever met.

Sources: Pat Doyle's Professional Baseball Player Database, The Big Book of Jewish Baseball by Peter Horvitz and Joachim Horvitz

[edit] Further Reading

  • Bill Colson: "An Ongoing Fungoer: California Coach Jimmie Reese is the oldest and best fungo hitter around", Sports Illustrated, August 27, 1979. [1]
  • Tom Willman: "Jimmie Reese: The Career and the Man", in Jean Hastings Ardell and Andy McCue, ed.: Endless Seasons: Baseball in Southern California, The National Pastime, SABR, Number 41, 2011, pp. 28-31.

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