Pee Wee Reese stood at home plate, waiting. The Detroit pitcher on the mound was a large young man named Jim Bunning. He was very fast this sunny March afternoon and very wild.
Pee Wee waited with a quiet confidence that became a 37-year-old man who still felt 19, who was the proud father of a practically brand-new six-weeks-old son and who in the four times he had appeared at bat in this young exhibition season had had a walk, a single and two lovely home runs.
Bunning threw. The fast ball went directly at Pee Wee's head, and Reese fell in a lump at the plate, hit by the pitch. There wasn't a man in the press box or in the dugout or in the stands who knew Reese who didn't feel a little sick to his stomach.
Pee Wee rolled over and held himself tautly, in an odd position, stretching his body in pain as he supported himself on his toes and his left forearm. People gathered around him, and after a while Reese stood up and allowed himself to be led from the field. Dr. Harold Wendler, the Dodgers' trainer, carried Pee Wee's right arm.
"Thank God, it wasn't his head," was the first reaction among those who knew Reese. But, from the way the trainer held the arm, it looked broken, and if it was broken that could be the end of the road as a ballplayer for Pee Wee Reese and the end, too, for this year's Dodgers.
"Bunning just settled the National League pennant race," said Jack Lang of the
Long Island Press. However, an inning or so later word came up from Dr. Wendler that it was only a bruise, a bad bruise but no more than that, on the fleshy inner part of the forearm where Pee Wee had raised it protectively in front of his face. Jack Lang was wrong then. The race was still wide open.
But, even so, Lang's comment and Reese's injury suddenly brought the status of the 1957 Brooklyn Dodgers clearly into focus. They were, indeed, as everyone has charged, an old team, a collection of marvelous baseball players but old ones, past their prime, prone to injury, prone to ailments, losing slowly but surely to age. Carl Furillo's cranky elbow still bothered him; Carl is 35. Roy Campanella's hand, which crippled him so badly last season, was still a question; Roy is 35, too, and some say older. Sal Maglie felt fine, but Sal eases past 40 on April 26 and Sal has a history of back trouble; most men of 40 with back trouble feel it strike after a half hour of cutting grass. How can a 40-year-old man with a trick back pitch 200 innings of baseball?
And Don Newcombe's arm was hurting, and Carl Erskine's probably was, too, though with Carl a sore arm is as much a part of his baseball life as his glove and he tends to ignore it. Don and Carl are both past 30. Duke Snider, hit by a pitched ball, had picked up a bad bruise on his leg, and he's 30, too.
Clearly, then, this was a team of old and ailing players. And it was a team that depended on those old and ailing players for its strength. Lose a Reese or a Campanella or a Furillo, and where would they be?
The exhibition game went on. Bunning continued to be wild but the Dodgers had not scored against him when, with two men on base, Don Zimmer came to bat in the second inning.