While doing research for a column about the Yankees announcing they would be retiring Bernie Williams’, Andy Pettitte’s and Jorge Posada’s uniform numbers, I looked into how different teams treat the retiring of players’ numbers.
The Yankees have retired 19 of their players’ numbers and some of the other original franchises have retired a significant number. For example, the Cardinals have retired 12 and the Reds, Braves and Pirates have all retired 10. On the other hand, the Mariners and Marlins have not retired any numbers even though the Mariners have had some great players such as Ken Griffey and Randy Johnson.
Most of the players whose names I ran across in this research were players I had heard of or seen play myself. There were a few exceptions, people I had never heard of, who had had less than spectacular careers.
One such player was a second baseman named Jimmie Reese whose number 50 was retired by the Los Angeles Angels. In checking, I found that Reese, who was born James Herman Soloman in New York City on October 1, 1901, but played as Jimmie Reese, had only played three seasons in the Major Leagues. He was with the New York Yankees in 1930 and 1931, playing second base and hitting .341 in just 77 games in 1930 and dropping to .241 in 1931.
While with the Yankees, he became friends with and roomed with Babe Ruth. He was often quoted as saying ‘ I roomed with Babe’s suitcase ‘ a reference to Babe’s flamboyant life style. Coincidentally, the two who became very close friends both had the middle name Herman.
In 1932, he was sent to St. Paul in the American Association where the Cardinals picked him up to fill in for an injured Frankie Frisch, one of their greatest all time ballplayers. He hit .265 that year and that was the end of his major league career.
Reese, or Soloman, who was called Hymie before he changed his name, had started his career, according to Ralph Berger of the Sabre Baseball Biography Project, as a bat boy with the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League at age 12 in 1913, a position he held until he started his playing career with the Oakland Oaks of the PCL, then a AA League, as a second baseman in 1924.
He played for the Oaks until 1927, when the Yankees purchased he and short stop Lyn Lary for $125,000. Lary and Reese had formed a double play combinations known as the Gold Dust Twins at Oakland.
After his brief Major League career, he played with Los Angeles and San Diego in the PCL until 1938. In 1939, he managed the Bellingham Chinooks in the Western International League. In1937, he was named the second baseman on the All Time Pacific Coast League team.
He spent several years as a coach and scout for various teams until, in 1972, he was hired as a Coach with the Los Angeles Angels. He was with the Angels and was the conditioning Coach until his death in 1994. He came to the Angels at the same time pitching great Nolan Ryan came there and they became close friends. According to the Sabre Project, Ryan named one of his children after Reese. Gene Autry, Owner of the Team, had such respect for Reese that he gave him a lifetime contract with the team.
He may not have had an outstanding playing career but he made enough of an impression on the game that his number was retired. The Sabre Project autobiography quotes Nolan Ryan as saying that Reese was ‘ the finest human being I ever met.’
Jimmie Reese is one of only four Angel players whose numbers have been retired. The other three are Jim Fregosi, Rod Carew and Nolan Ryan. Pretty good company for a player with just a three year playing career but a lifetime devoted to professional baseball.