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Leadership Without Words
by Rubel Shelly

    From 1949 to 1958, Pee Wee Reese was captain of baseball’s Dodgers. Named not for his size but for playing marbles as a kid with a pee-wee shooter, he was a great shortstop, a daring baserunner, and a superb clutch hitter. He was an eight-time All Star and sparked the Dodgers to seven National League pennants. He fielded the final ground ball in Brooklyn’s only World Series championship in 1955. He never earned more than $35,000 playing the game he loved.

    During his total of sixteen years on the field for the Dodgers, Reese was respected as a person as well as a ballplayer. His fellow Dodgers called him simply “The Captain” and deferred to his judgment on many a matter. He wasn’t good at speeches. His leadership came from inner confidence, integrity, and consistency. His manner had the unpretentious effect of causing people to trust and follow him.

    Just back from a three-year stint in the Navy during World War II, Reese had helped win a war against racial intolerance in Europe and was destined to be caught up in fighting the same evil in his own country. His team decided to break the barrier against black players by bringing up a young player named Jackie Robinson.

“I’m not signing!”
    Some of the Dodger players began circulating a petition in the clubhouse to protest the plan. It said in effect that the players signing it wouldn’t play on a team with a black man. Confident that Reese would sign it because he was a Southerner, it was shoved under his nose. “I’m not signing!” he said, and the petition died.

    Robinson was with the team for spring training in 1947. Before a game in Cincinnati, just across the river from Reese’s native Kentucky, the ugliness was intense. Fans in the stands joined players in the opposing dugout to shout racial slurs at the solitary black man taking infield practice at second base.

    Pee Wee Reese raised his arm to halt the team’s warmup. He walked from his shortstop position to second base and put his arm around Jackie Robinson’s shoulders. That event is viewed as a turning point in the history of baseball. By extension, it was also a major blow against racism in American society.

    “Pee Wee kind of sensed the sort of hopeless, dead feeling in me and came over and stood beside me for a while,” Robinson recalled. “He didn’t say a word, but he looked over at the chaps who were yelling at me . . . and just stared. He was standing by me. I could tell you that.”

    Sometimes you don’t need to say anything to lead. Just be there. Stand for what you know is right. There is an eloquence in actions that words can’t equal.

From Rubel Shelly's "FAX of Life" printed each Tuesday. See http://www.faithmatters.com for previous issues of the "FAX of Life."

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