October 1 – Happy Birthday Jimmy Reese
Ron Blomberg appeared in his first Yankee game on August 23, 1968. Incredibly, he was just the second Jew ever to wear a Yankee uniform. The first was today’s birthday celebrant, Jimmy Reese. Reese doesn’t sound like a Jewish name does it? That’s because the second baseman had changed it from Soloman when he was a teenager, knowing he would have better luck making it as a baseball player if he hid his heritage.
In 1929, Reese hit .337 for the Oakland Oaks in the Pacific Coast league. The Yankees paid Oakland $125,000 for the contracts of Reese and his Oakland teammate and double play partner, Lyn Lary. While Lary became the Yankees’ starting shortstop in 1930, Reese sat on the bench behind future Hall of Fame second baseman, Tony Lazzeri. Yankee skipper, Bob Shawkey did manage to get Jimmy into 77 games that year and Reese responded by hitting .346. He also became Babe Ruth’s roommate on the road and one of the Bambino’s best friends and biggest admirers. Ruth’s first question walking into the Yankee clubhouse would often be “Where’s the Jew.” He’d take Reese home for dinner, play cards with him on the long train rides during Yankee road trips, and pull all sorts of pranks on his adoring roommate. When Reese’s average fell to .241 in 1931, the Yankees sold him to the American Association franchise in St. Paul, MN. After a 90-game trial with the Cardinals in 1932, Reese’s big league playing career was over and he headed back to the Pacific Coast League.
After coaching in the Minors for decades, Reese asked the California Angels for a job and was made the team’s conditioning coach in 1972, when he was 71 years old. He spent the next 22 years in that role, becoming one of the most popular personalities ever to wear the Halos’ uniform. He was best known for his incredible skills with a fungo bat. He could hit a ball wherever he wanted to with that bat and would even sometimes pitch Angels’ batting practice with it, hitting one line drive after another right over the plate. The Angels retired his uniform number when he died in 1994. I wonder if that number would have been retired if this New York City native had not made the decision to change his name from Soloman to Reese all those many years ago?
Also celebrating his birthday today is the player the Yankees traded for outfielder Paul O’Neill and this one-time closer who retired with 365 saves.