Pete Reiser: The Definition of Hustle

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistJune 4, 2009

In today's game of multi-million dollar contracts and an overall me-first attitude on the part of the players, it is easy to forget what hustle and determination looks like on the baseball field.

One man who defined hustle, to the point that it was his undoing, was Pete Reiser—and he is a man too often forgotten in the baseball world.

The year was 1941, and the Brooklyn Dodgers were 21 seasons removed from their last pennant. Coming off a solid 88-65 season, the Dodgers needed a spark to propel them to the next level, and they found it when they handed the starting center field job to 22-year-old Pete Reiser.

A part time player the previous season, Reiser shined in his first opportunity as a starter, winning the batting title with a .343 average, and also leading the NL in runs (117), doubles (39), triples (17), and total bases (299).

He started the All-Star games and finished a close second to teammate Dolph Camilli for the MVP.

The Dodgers also won the pennant, but fell to the Yankees 4-1 in the World Series.

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For Reiser, he had established a reputation as a great hitter and a helluva fielder who would routinely crash into the then unpadded concrete walls chasing fly balls, which often resulted in injury.

The next season, the Dodgers again started out great.  They were backed by their newest star Reiser who was hitting .383 midway through July.

It was then that his all-out style of play really cost him for the first time in his career as he crashed full speed into the concrete outfield wall in St. Louis, separating his shoulder and suffering a concussion in the process.

He was ineffective the rest of the season as his average dropped to .310, and the Dodgers fell out of contention.

Following the '42 season, Reiser enlisted to serve his country in the Army during World War II and was out of baseball until 1946.

Upon his return to the game in 1946, he picked up right where he left off as he was considered the fastest player in baseball, once clocked at 9.8 seconds in the 100-yard dash.  

He showed that speed with an NL high of 34 steals. 

Injuries again were an issue though as a gruesome late season wall collision saw him carted off the field on a stretcher with a separated shoulder, broken ankle, and a number of torn muscles.

His season was over.

The 1947 season paired Reiser with Jackie Robinson, and the two went on to finish first and second in stolen bases.

Again, however, his season was cut short by a crash into the outfield wall. This collision was so severe, in fact, that he was actually read his last rites while laying in the outfield at Ebbets Field.

The Dodgers still managed to win the pennant in '47 and, despite the scary injury, Reiser started the first three games of the World Series. However, he was not himself as he misplayed several fly balls due to his rapidly developing vertigo.

By the next season, Reiser was no longer a starter as the injuries really started to take their toll on him. He had vertigo, he was dizzy all the time, and he was just not good enough to start anymore.

He was traded to the Braves in 1948 and he retired in 1952 when the dizziness became too much for him to play through. Thus ending the playing career of the man that manager Leo Durocher would later call, "The only ballplayer I ever saw who was better than Willie Mays."

After his playing days were over, Reiser was asked by a reporter, "Do you ever think that if you hadn't played as hard as you did, there's no telling how great you might have been?

He responded, "Never. It was my way of playing. If I hadn't played that way I wouldn't even have been whatever I was. God gave me gave me those legs and the speed, and when they took me into the walls that's the way it had to be."

Now that is what baseball is all about, and the way the game should be played.

Baseball needs more Paul Reiser's.