1947 Pee Wee Reese Brooklyn Dodgers Contract and Related Material
Starting Bid - $500, Sold For - $2,015
Four-page fold-over contract, dated January 29, 1947, between Harold "Pee Wee" Reese and the Brooklyn National League Baseball Club, Inc., signed in black ink by "Harold H. Reese" (grading "10") and in blue ink by "Branch Rickey" ("10"), president of the Dodgers. The one-year agreement calls for Reese to receive an annual salary of $12,500. Included with the contract is a file copy of the cover letter sent to Reese from Branch Rickey, as well as a Post Office "Return Receipt" card signed by Reese in pencil (grading "7"). In the letter, Rickey justifies the team's salary offer. In part: "Your base salary last year was $9,500.00. You received substantial bonuses because you had an exceptionally good year as did the club. . . . I think it is only fair to say that the bonuses given to you indicate that the club was considerate of your work and appreciative, and most certainly if the player and the club can make the same over-all record that it did in 1946, you would not be paid less than you received last year. However, we don't know that. I am enclosing contract calling for $12,500.00 and I hope that you will believe that this is in no sense a cut from last year's salary but a raise of $3,000.00, and that you will come to believe that this club will treat you, under all circumstances, in a generous manner. We will train in Havana, Cuba, reporting there on February 20th."
This is, in many respects, the most significant Pee Wee Reese contract in existence. 1947 marked not only Reese's finest all-around season, but it is even more significant as the historic year in which Jackie Robinson broke baseball's long-standing "color barrier." The final sentence cited in Rickey's cover letter is significant, because it foreshadows that historic event. Rickey knew that if the Dodgers trained down South as they had in the past, he would be placing Robinson in a very volatile environment that might end his "great experiment" before it even started. For that reason the Dodgers moved their spring training site to Havana, Cuba, where the color of Robinson's skin would not be as problematic. Reese played a central role in Robinson's joining the Dodgers that spring. After returning from World War II military service in 1946, Reese quietly established himself as the team leader. Even before the season began, Reese refused to sign a petition that threatened a boycott if Robinson joined the team. When Robinson first arrived at training camp, Reese was the first to openly accept him. On the Dodgers first road trip, while Robinson was being heckled by fans in Cincinnati, during pregame warmups Reese made it a point to be seen talking with Jackie Robinson, even going so far as to put his arm around Jackie's shoulders. That gesture, more than anything else, silenced the crowd, quickly quelled any thoughts of rebellion in the Dodgers clubhouse, and paved the way for the start of what would become the "Golden Age" of Brooklyn Dodgers baseball. Reese batted a career-high .284 with 12 home runs, 73 RBI, and a league-leading 104 bases on balls in 1947. Those numbers helped lead the Dodgers to the National League pennant. Reese continued to excel in the World Series, batting .304 with 4 RBI and 3 stolen bases in the club's seven-game defeat to the Yankees.
While 1947 was clearly a banner season for Reese and the Dodgers, the greater significance of this 1947 contract is the connection between Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese. At Reese's funeral, Joe Black, another major league baseball black pioneer, perhaps best captured the enormous significance of Reese's role in Robinson's most turbulent early days of breaking the color barrier in the majors in 1947 when he said, "Pee Wee helped make my boyhood dream come true to play in the majors, the World Series. When Pee Wee reached out to Jackie, all of us in the Negro League smiled and said it was the first time that a white guy had accepted us. When I finally got up to Brooklyn, I went to Pee Wee and said, 'Black people love you. When you touched Jackie, you touched all of us.' With Pee Wee, it was No. 1 on his uniform and No. 1 in our hearts."
One of the top defensive shortstops of his era, Reese retired in 1958 with a .269 lifetime average and 2,170 hits. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1984. 104 of Hall of Fame players, especially those dating from their respective playing careers, are rare and the offered example is no exception. This is only the second Reese contract we have ever offered (the other example was also from 1947, but not the same contract as offered here) and the earliest we have ever seen. The contract (8.5 x 11 inches) displays two horizontal folds and is in Excellent to Mint condition. The cover letter (8.5 x 11) displays toning in the area along the top where the return receipt card was once attached by means of staples; otherwise Ex. The return receipt card (5 x 3 inches) displays a few small tears and staple holes (Vg-Ex). All of the items have been matted and framed together with two vintage trade cards of Reese: 1956 Topps #260 (Ex) and 1954 Bowman #58 (Ex). Ideally, the piece has been framed with Plexiglas on each side, so that both the front and reverse of the contract can be viewed. LOA from James Spence/JSA. Reserve $500. Estimate $1,000/$2,000+. SOLD FOR $2,015