A Day In The Life Of The Most Reckless Ballplayer In History

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Yesterday, we republished W.C. Heinz's 1958 profile of Pete Reiser, a ballplayer whose talent could have carried him to the Hall of Fame, but whose penchant for pushing his constantly battered body beyond any reasonable limits undercut his career. At one point in the profile, Heinz details a period in which Reiser was hospitalized twice in as many days after suffering a head injury and refusing to stay off the field. If there's one story that sums up Pete Reiser, it's this one:

When they came into St. Louis the Dodgers were leading by 10-and-a-half games. When they took off for Pittsburgh they left three games of that lead and Pete Reiser behind them.

"We were in the 12th inning, no score, two outs, and Slaughter hit it off Whit Wyatt," Pete says. "It was over my head and I took off. I caught it and missed that flagpole by two inches and hit the wall and dropped the ball. I had the instinct to throw it to Pee Wee Reese, and we just missed gettin' Slaughter at the plate, and they won, 1–0.

"I made one step to start off the field and I woke up the next morning in St. John's Hospital. My head was bandaged, and I had an awful headache."

Dr. Robert Hyland, who was Pete's personal physician, announced to the newspapers that Pete would be out for the rest of the season. "Look, Pete," Hyland told him, "I'm your personal friend. I'm advising you not to play any more baseball this year."

"I don't like hospitals, though," Pete was telling me once, "so after two days I took the bandage off and got up. The room started to spin, but I got dressed and I took off. I snuck out, and I took a train to Pittsburgh and I went to the park.

"Leo saw me and he said, 'Go get your uniform on, Pistol.' I said, 'Not tonight, Skipper.' Leo said, 'Aw, I'm not gonna let you hit. I want these guys to see you. It'll give 'em that little spark they need. Besides, it'll change the pitching plans on that other bench when they see you sittin' here in uniform.' "

In the 14th inning the Dodgers had a runner on second and Ken Heintzelman, the left-hander, came in for the Pirates. He walked Johnny Rizzo, and Durocher had run out of pinch hitters.

"Damn," Leo was saying, walking up and down. "I want to win this one. Who can I use? Anybody here who can hit?"

Pete walked up to the bat rack. He pulled out his stick. "You got yourself a hitter," he said to Leo.

He walked up there and hit a line drive over the second baseman's head that was good for three bases. The two runs scored, and Pete rounded first base and collapsed.

"When I woke up I was in a hospital again," he says. "I could just make out that somebody was standin' there and then I saw it was Leo. He said, 'You awake?' I said, 'Yep.' He said, 'By God, we beat 'em! How do you feel?' I said, 'How do you think I feel?' He said, 'Aw, you're better with one leg and one eye than anybody else I've got.' I said, 'Yeah, and that's the way I'll end up—on one leg and with one eye.'

Be sure to read the entire profile below.