Harold Patrick (Pete) Reiser is 38 years old, 5 feet 10½ inches tall and weighs 198 pounds. He has a full face, hazel eyes and thinning dark brown hair. Counting service time, he played in the major leagues 13 years, most of them with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was a fine player, but he was injured a lot. "When people tell me I played too hard," he says, "I tell them that's how I got up to the majors." He is the only rookie to have won the National League batting championship. He was hitting .350 his second year when he ran into the center-field wall in St. Louis, chasing a line drive. He finished the season at .310, and the best he ever hit after that was .309 in 1947. In 1952 he quit. He was troubled by headaches, dizzy spells and a nervous stomach. All told, he had suffered five skull fractures and seven brain concussions. Three years ago, he returned to baseball as a manager in the Brooklyn farm system, and for the past two years he has been managing the Kokomo Dodgers in the Class D Midwest League. In organized baseball, there is no league classed lower than D, or, as Reiser puts it, "This is the bush."
Some of the clubs in the Midwest League are in towns even more obscure than Kokomo, Indiana—like Paris and Mattoon, Illinois. To keep up attendance, the playing year is divided into two seasons of 63 games. At the end of the second season there is a championship playoff between the top four teams. Kokomo, which finished second in the first season, is in second again. Most games are at night. In one park the lights are so poor outfielders have difficulty seeing ground balls. In Dubuque the outfielders throw downhill. In Paris they throw uphill. Kokomo is a community-owned club. Most of the players are supplied by Brooklyn. They have names like Napoleon Savinon and Burbon Wheeler, whose nickname, oddly enough, is Teacup. The general manager, Jim Deets, works for the New York Life Insurance Company during the winter, and the president, Don Scott, is the chief of police. The club travels by chartered bus. The longest haul is to Dubuque. It is 370 miles from Kokomo, and the trip takes eight hours. On the road a player gets $2.50 a day for meals. Reiser gets $5.
A BAWLIN' OUT NEVER HURT
When Kokomo is at home, Reiser gets up at 9. He lives in a furnished trailer on the west edge of town and pays $21 a week rent. That includes gas, water and electricity. He fixes his own breakfast, usually a couple of soft boiled eggs, and drinks four or five cups of coffee. During breakfast he reads The Indianapolis Star or the Chicago Tribune to see how Brooklyn is doing. At 10 he drives his 1950 two-door Chevrolet sedan, for which he paid $100, to the ball park, Highland Park Stadium, about five minutes away. He parks in the grove of trees near the gate and walks to the concrete clubhouse behind the wooden first-base grandstand. He passes through the players' clubhouse, in which there is a red-lettered sign warning DO NOT ASSAULT UMPIRES, and turns into his office on the right. Chalked on the door is "Pete Reiser, Manager." Across the hall is the shower. The office is about five feet square and is furnished with a desk, a portable typewriter, two metal chairs and a blackboard. When he gets there, he writes down the good and bad points of the game the night before on a sheet of paper, then he figures out the morning workout. The players show at 10:30, and he goes over the game with them. If a player deserves praise, he gets it, or if he deserves a bawling out, he gets it, right in front of the others. "It's good for a ballplayer to "know what other ballplayers should be doin'," Reiser says. "Besides, a bawlin' out never hurt anybody as long as there's love in it."
September 1, 1957
If it's a hot day, he wears an old pair of brown and yellow bathing trunks during the workout. He also wears a navy blue cap with "K" in white on the front, low socks, spikes, sunglasses and a stopwatch around his neck. "A boy should develop a good runnin' habit," he says. "If he's capable of runnin' to first in three and four-tenths seconds in practice, he should run it in the game. All I ask is for 100% hustle and consideration for my position as manager." He devotes most of the workout to teaching. Class D players have a lot of faults. For example, an outfielder may run on his heels fielding a fly, an infielder may not use the crossover step when breaking to the sides, or a hitter may be committing himself too soon on the bunt. Like all masterful bunters, Reiser believes bunting has become a lost art, and he has his players practice it often. Once in a while he has them practice the poor-bastard play, so called because the hitter fakes a bunt, then swings away toward the poor bastard of a fielder charging in. Two faults that are hard to overcome are fear of making the tag or fear of a pitched ball. Either one can damn a player out of baseball, even Class D. "A lot of baseball is here," Reiser says, tapping his stomach.
After the workout he drives into town for steak or ham and eggs. Then he may take in a movie. If it's Saturday, he and a couple of players instruct Little Leaguers, then Reiser goes to confession at St. Joan of Arc's. Around 5 or 6 he goes back to the office and fills out the daily game report for the previous night. He attaches the box score and types in whatever comments are called for. "It's just as though I'm writing a letter to Fresco," he says. Fresco is Fresco Thompson, the Brooklyn vice-president in charge of farms. If necessary he does other paper work. Twice during the year he sends in a scouting report on every player in the league. His recommendation is taken highly. Last year he recommended Tom Humber, an outfielder for the Clinton (Iowa) Pirates, and when Pittsburgh didn't protect him from the draft, Brooklyn got him for $700. This year Humber is playing for Reno in the Class C California League. He is hitting .330 and has stolen 56 bases.
Before the game Reiser hits fungos or holds tryouts. One of his hardest jobs is telling a boy he can't make it. A couple of months ago a boy from northern Minnesota showed up. He had sold the family car to raise money for the bus ticket. The boy said that up where he came from he was figured a right crackerjack ballplayer, and when Reiser told him he lacked the ability to play pro ball, the boy burst into tears. Reiser told him not to cry and that if he couldn't be the best damn ballplayer on the Kokomo Dodgers, he could be the best damn farmer in northern Minnesota.
Night games start at 7:30. Kokomo occupies the dirt floor dugout on the first-base side. Reiser, who wears No. 5, sits on the bench near the steps, but if the game is tight, he leans against the front of the dugout, rolling a pebble between his fingers. When Kokomo is up, he coaches at third. The average crowd is about 800, and it is solidly for Kokomo against the umpires. Twice this year umpires have needed police protection to get back to the YMCA.
After the game the players wait for Reiser to tell them when to take off their uniforms. It's an idea he picked up from Leo Durocher. Actually, when Kokomo loses, the players just sit in front of their lockers anyway, too disgusted to do much of anything. Reiser dresses and goes into town for dinner and a beer. Occasionally he holds a curfew check. The players have two and a half hours after the game to get to bed. An offender gets a warning the first couple of times. After that, a $25 fine.
Ordinarily, Reiser is in bed by 1:30. When he's asleep, his right shoulder sometimes pops loose. The wire holding the clavicle to the breastbone is broken, but Reiser has gotten so used to the shoulder popping that he just snaps it back when he gets up. It's O.K. except that it aches for a couple of days.
During the winter Reiser lives in St. Louis with his family. He works as a carpenter for the Ilmo Sash & Door Co. doing indoor work at $2.80 an hour. His wife, Pat, is the receptionist for a doctor. The Reisers have two girls, Sally, 14, and Shirley, just turned 8. Sally is retarded. "When I first found out, I was ashamed," he says, "but it's nothing to be ashamed of." He does a lot of speaking on the subject around home. Mrs. Reiser is president of the St. Louis Association for Retarded Children and on the board of directors of the national association. During the summer the girls spend a month in Kokomo. They see the ball games and go on picnics.
Reiser has some good prospects on the club. Tom Davis, an outfielder from Brooklyn, is leading the league in hitting, and the first baseman, Tim Hark-ness, a Canadian boy, is an excellent fielder and probably the best long-ball hitter in the league. But you never know who's going to make it to the top. It may be a boy hitting only .250. Reiser does all he can to get the most out of his players, and he handles them all individually. He can handle one player with a glance. Just a glance. Nothing more. He gets the best out of another player, a very sensitive boy, by inflating his ego and making him think he did it all himself. Actually, he did, but he doesn't think of it that way unless he's told. "If you ever jumped on him real bad," says Reiser, "I think he'd cry, and at the same time break you in two." Playing down in D ball can sometimes be pretty discouraging. A player can get to feel that he's looking at the world through the wrong end of a telescope, especially if he has kicked around a long time. Emerson Unzicker, a pitcher who got married in a crossed-bat ceremony at home plate last year, has been in D ball four years. This year he won 18 games and lost 10. Reiser keeps telling him that he has a chance. "After all," Reiser says, "Johnny Sain spent four years in D ball." But if a player can't make it all the way, Reiser hopes he can make it to the International League or the American Association. "That's where the money starts," he says.
As for himself, he plans to stay on in the Brooklyn organization. He is content to wait his turn. Sometimes, however, he thinks he'd like to coach up in the majors and get 20 years in on his pension. "That pays pretty good when you're about 50," he says. "Then I figure we could go down to Florida and live. The kids would both be grown up then. But ah, what the hell. I'd probably be back. You always want to be back in baseball."