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Big D and Pee Wee

Don Drysdale was “Big D.” Harold Reese was “Pee Wee.”

Those are the nicknames we, as fans know, and the media, as well. But among those teammates on the Dodgers, the players used different nicknames than the ones we know! Pee Wee was “Prune,” because he had some wrinkles in his face. Big D was “The Big Collie,” or just Collie. Drysdale, himself, never knew why anyone called him that, but they did! He theorized, “Probably just because I was so big and cuddly! Ha!”

At first glance one might not imagine how much they had in common, one being much older than the other. Drysdale joined the Brooklyn Dodgers as Reese was near the end of his great career. Big D was 6’5″ and Pee Wee was listed at 5’9″. They played together only four seasons, two in Brooklyn, two in Los Angeles.

But their lockers were close. They got to know one another. Reese had the lowest number on his uniform, number 1, and Drysdale had the highest, number 53, so they met up.

Those two numbers have long been retired from use by the Dodgers. Both Drysdale and Reese spent their entire careers with only one team, the Dodgers — a rarity in baseball. They shared a competitive fire and hated their rivals, the Giants and the Yankees. They entered the Hall of Fame in the same year. After retiring, each enjoyed careers in baseball broadcasting, and were really good at it. And they share the same birthday, July 23. 

“Pee Wee was our leader,” Drysdale always said of the team captain. Funny thing — he was known to throw an illegal spitball, and claimed that Pee Wee would “load it up” for him! He admitted after retiring that he threw 5, 10 or as high as 20 spit balls in games! 

Another weapon: Drysdale was never afraid to brush hitters back and keep them off the plate. In 1960, for instance, he hit 20 batters. And being impatient, when he needed to intentionally walk a batter, instead of throwing four balls, he would fire just one — and plunk the poor guy at the plate! As in, hit-by-pitch and “Take your base!”

Pee Wee was a quiet, little guy, but everyone looked to him to lead the way for those teams. He really was their leader – not Roy Campanella, not Gil Hodges, not Carl Erskine, not Duke Snider, not Don Newcombe, not Junior Gilliam, not Carl Furillo, not Jackie Robinson — both on and off the field. There was no question as to who ran the show on teams he played for in Brooklyn and Los Angeles.

Everyone called him “Pee Wee,” but his real name was Harold Peter Henry Reese. The nickname came from his childhood, when he was a marbles champion! A “pee wee” is a small marble.

“He had a great presence,” said Drysdale, “and terrific baseball instincts. Here was a man, who, in his final year, was standing on second base when Duke Snider hit a long fly ball to the deepest part of the Los Angeles Coliseum. The ball was caught, Pee Wee tagged up and scored, all the way from second! Not a flashy guy, Pee Wee, but he got it done.

“Reese had been installed as the Dodger captain many years before I got there, but I never had to ask myself why. As a player, he did everything effortlessly. As a person, I would say Pee Wee personified the “Dodger Way” by the manner in which he carried himself.

“Pee Wee was born in Louisville, the son of a railroad detective, and he was very much the Southern gentleman. The beauty of a youngster like myself being on the Dodgers at that time was that you had eight or ten examples to follow, eight or ten teachers of how to play the game and how to handle your role as a Brooklyn Dodger. None was better than Pee Wee.”