Only a handful of people who saw Pete Reiser in his prime are still around today. Those who did have two things in common: they remember when the Dodgers belonged to Brooklyn … and they cannot watch an athlete streak toward an outfield fence without feeling just a little sick to their stomachs. Pete was a 5-foot-10½, sinewy-strong 185pounder who generated more speed, power, and pure energy than seemed physically possible from that modest frame. The only thing that could stop Pete was an unpadded stadium wall.
Harold Patrick Reiser was born on March 17— St. Patrick’s Day (hence his middle name)—1919, in St. Louis, Missouri. He was the sixth of nine living children born to George and Stella (Boody) Reiser. As a boy, his friends and family called him Pete, after the cowboy movie hero Two-Gun Pete. He loved westerns, and as a child he often walked around the neighborhood with a pair of toy sixshooters holstered to his belt. Eventually his nickname became “Pistol Pete.”
Reiser’s father, a good semipro pitcher, began flinging pitches to his son at an early age; and at an early age, Pete could hit them. Pete’s older brother Mike often brought him along to play in his sandlot games. Thus, at least in modern parlance, Pete spent much of his youth “playing up.” Mike was later signed out of high school by the New York Yankees, but he contracted scarlet fever shortly thereafter and died.
Reiser was good at every sport he tried. As a fourteen-year-old at Holy Ghost Parochial School, he impressed a local soccer scout enough to earn $50 a game—more than his dad was making in a week. He was a terrific football player, bowler, and ice skater, too; and he was ambidextrous. Pete threw and batted right-handed as a boy, but he could swing around and do almost as well lefthanded. His sports fantasy, however, did not take place on the diamond. Raised in a devout Catholic family, he dreamed of becoming a football star for Notre Dame.
Leo Durocher said Pete Reiser “might have been the best
ballplayer I ever saw.”
At William Beaumont High School, Reiser was the team’s shortstop. He was not big, but he was fast. He also had a powerful arm and a live bat, and he was unrelenting on defense. He believed