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Cubs historical sleuthing: Pete Reiser edition

Reiser had tremendous talent, but couldn’t stop running into walls.

Photo by Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images

Getty Images supplied the following information for this photo:

BROOKLYN - 1941. Pete Reiser, outfielder for the Brooklyn Dodgers, slides safely home during a game with the Chicago Cubs Clyde McCullough in the catcher gear.

All right, we’ve narrowed it down some, to 1941. It’s got to be in Brooklyn, because Reiser’s uniform is home white and McCullough’s is road gray.

Reiser scored runs in five games against the Cubs in 1941 in Brooklyn, one in each of the five. Here they are:

May 3: Scored from second on a single in the bottom of the eighth.

July 13, second game: Homered in the second inning.

July 15, second game: Scored from second on a double in the bottom of the fourth.

August 21: Scored from third on a single in the bottom of the fourth.

August 22: Scored from third on a fly ball (in 1941, these were not officially “sacrifice flies”) in the bottom of the first.

We can eliminate three of these five right away. A runner wouldn’t be sliding on a home run, scoring from second on a double or scoring from third on a single.

So we’re left with Reiser scoring from second on a single, or scoring from third on a fly ball.

The photo shows the batters’ boxes. By the eighth inning (the May 3 game) those would have likely been completely erased. But in the first inning, as in the August 22 game? Yeah, you’d still see those at least partly remaining.

So this play likely happened Friday, August 22, 1941, a game the Cubs lost 8-5. The Dodgers would go on to win the NL pennant that year, their first flag since 1920.

Pete Reiser burst onto the MLB scene in 1941 at age 22 with a fantastic year, hitting .343/.406/.558 with 117 runs scored, 39 doubles and 17 triples. All but the OBP were league-leading figures. Somehow, that was good for only second place in MVP voting (his teammate Dolph Camilli, who led the NL in HR and RBI, won it). There wasn’t a Rookie of the Year award in 1941, but Reiser would undoubtedly have won it if there had been.

Reiser had another good year in 1942, then went off to military service. On his return in 1946 he had another good year, but by then his propensity for running into walls after fly balls was well known. He gave himself multiple concussions and after 1947, never played in more than 84 games in a season. It’s all of Reiser’s injuries we have to thank for padded outfield walls (well, except in Wrigley Field) and warning tracks — the latter were made mandatory in 1947.

Reiser, who had played for Leo Durocher in Brooklyn, eventually became a manager in the Dodgers system and then a Dodgers coach, only to suffer a heart attack in 1965. Durocher talked him out of retirement and he served as a Cubs coach from 1966-69. Reiser died of emphysema in 1981, aged just 62.