As much as any player, Pee Wee Reese was the leader of the Brooklyn Dodgers during their glory years in the 1940s and 1950s. He wasn’t just a peasky little shortstop, he was an excellent athlete who was the glue on a team that won seven pennants in 16 years in Flatbush from 1941 to 1956.
Reese was an All-Star ten times and he received MVP votes in 13 seasons, so it was obvious during his time that he was one of the best ballplayer sin the game. He was one of the generation of shortstops after World War II who started to redefine the position into one where a player could hit for power and drive in runs as well as play defense.
When Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947, Reese was the man who made sure no one messed with him. He famously threw his arm around Jackie in the middle of the diamond when a fan threw a black cat on the field. Reese also teamed with Robinson at the top of the Dodger lineup and of course as a double play duo during the years that Jackie played second base.
With his career almost exactly matching that of Yankee Phil Rizzuto, it was inevitable that the two New York shortstops would be compared. Reese was the better player, by a clear (though not wide) margin. As several baseball historians and statisticians have shown, Rizzuto was the better defender, having more range and converting more balls he fielded into outs. Reese was the better hitter and offensive player over the course of his career. Pee Wee got on base more often, but most critically for this debate, the Dodger infielder had more power. He hit 88 more homers than Rizzuto and his other power numbers were markedly better than those of Scooter. According to WAR, which is acknowledged as the best way to emasure the value of a player, Reese outperformed Rizzuto 63 to 38. Both players missed prime seasons while they were fighting in WWII, so that’s a wash. Even when you adjust for the fact that Reese played 500 more games than Rizzuto, Pee Wee still comes out ahead.
For years though, neither player was in the Hall of Fame, until Reese was selected by the Veterans Committee in 1984. Only then did a groundswell grow around the candidacy of Rizzuto, who was inducted into the Hall ten years later.