November 1, 2005
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz today unveiled the Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese Monument at KeySpan Park, home of the Brooklyn Cyclones. The privately-financed Monument project commemorates the courageous and noble friendship forged between the two athletes. Councilmember Domenic M. Recchia Jr., Brooklyn Baseball Company Senior Executive Vice President and COO Jeff Wilpon, Rachel Robinson, Founder of the Jackie Robinson Foundation and wife of the late Jackie Robinson, Dorothy Reese, wife of the late Pee Wee Reese, Janie Eisenberg, wife of the late columnist Jack Newfield, sportswriter Stan Isaacs, the sculptor William Behrends, former Warner Bros. Chairman & CEO and former Los Angeles Dodgers Managing Partner Bob Daly, Brooklyn baseball legend and former Mets star John Franco, Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City President Joel Getz, Sports Commissioner Ken Podziba and Parks & Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe also attended the ceremony at Surf Avenue and 19th Street in Coney Island.
"Jackie Robinson was one of the most important figures in the civil rights movement in the 20th century," said Mayor Bloomberg. "Robinson was a courageous man and a gifted athlete, yet he faced many hurdles that most of us today will never know or fully appreciate. As a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers, he was supported by his teammates and, in particular, by the great Pee Wee Reese. Reese and Robinson were close friends, and invaluable contributors to the game of baseball for so many reasons. The unveiling of this monument today celebrating one of the most significant moments in their friendship also commemorates one of the most important events in professional sports history."
Jackie Robinson's courage and heroism in breaking the color barrier in organized baseball will forever be remembered. Less well known, but deeply etched into the memory of many baseball fans, is the game in Cincinnati in May of 1947 where amidst death threats and the taunts of racist hecklers, Pee Wee Reese, the captain of the Brooklyn Dodgers, went out of his way to support Robinson publicly by walking over and putting his arm around Jackie Robinson's shoulders, a gesture that told the world, and all the Dodgers, that Robinson was their teammate. Reese is remembered for that historic action and for his wonderful 16-year-career with the Dodgers.
"When Pee Wee Reese threw his arm around Jackie Robinson's shoulder in this legendary gesture of support and friendship, they showed America and the world that racial discrimination is unacceptable," said Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz. "Pee Wee and Jackie showed the courage to stand up for equality in the face of adversity, which we call the Brooklyn attitude. It is a moment in sports, and history that deserves to be preserved forever here in Brooklyn, proud home to everyone from everywhere."
"The Cyclones are extremely proud to house this monument at KeySpan Park," said Jeff Wilpon, Senior Executive Vice President and COO of Brooklyn Baseball Company. "It is an honor to pay tribute to two legendary men who became icons not only in Brooklyn but throughout the country. Jackie and Pee Wee shared a bond which helped to shape our society, and it is our hope that through this statue their story will be told to new generations. We would like to thank Mayor Bloomberg for his office's tireless efforts in bringing this truly meaningful project to completion."
"The Robinson Family is very proud to have the historic relationship between Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese memorialized in the statue being dedicated at KeySpan Park," said Rachel Robinson. "We hope that it will become a source of inspiration for all who view it, and a powerful reminder that teamwork underlies all social progress."
"The Reese family is extremely proud to be able to share in the unveiling of this very special statue with the Robinson family," said Dorothy Reese. "Pee Wee didn't see Jackie Robinson as a symbol, and, after a while, he didn't see color. He merely saw Jackie as a human being, a wonderful individual who happened to be a great ball player. My husband had many wonderful moments in his life, but if he were alive today, I know he'd say this honor was among the greatest in his life. I share in that sentiment."
"Pee Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson are true American heroes whose contributions to both the history of baseball and race relations in our country are immeasurable," said Commissioner Podziba. "Both Robinson and Reese are two great role models who exemplify courage and whose interactions show the power of teamwork. This statue will ensure that their friendship is forever memorialized."
The idea to commemorate these two New York City icons arose shortly after Pee Wee Reese's death in August of 1999, when Newsday columnist Stan Isaacs suggested that instead of naming a parkway or highway as a memorial to Reese, it would be a fitting tribute to honor the great Reese-Robinson moment with a statue in Brooklyn. Isaacs' suggestion was telecast on the Mets game that night, and the late Jack Newfield, then with the New York Post, wrote several columns in support of the idea.
"I am delighted that my idea to memorialize a great moment in American sports history has come to fruition," said Isaacs. "I regret only that Jack Newfield, who played such a large part in this endeavor, died last year and is not alive to see this come to pass."
Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani embraced the proposal for the monument, and in December 1999 announced the formation of a committee to study the project and commission the statue. Mayor Giuliani was one of the lead donors, personally making a $10,000 gift after he left office. During 2000 and 2001, the Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City (at that time, called New York City Public/Private Initiatives, Inc.) worked with a committee to oversee the selection of an artist and a site for the monument.
The selection of the artist was taking place on September 11, 2001, when the attacks at the World Trade Center occurred, and the project lapsed for a period of time in the aftermath. Ultimately, William Behrends of Tryon, North Carolina was selected. He is a noted sculptor whose work has included a series of monuments of Giants baseball players including one of Willie Mays that is located outside SBC Park in San Francisco.
"Most importantly, this monument should translate universally both human nature and the human spirit," said Behrends. "Jackie Robinson was an exemplary man and role model, both when he was silent and when he spoke out. Pee Wee Reese led his teammates through quiet strength. It is my hope that the humanity of this work inspires the viewer not to bold acts alone, but to appreciate their fellow man in everyday life."
When Mayor Bloomberg took office, he resurrected the project and asked Deputy Mayor for Administration Patricia Harris to take the lead in getting it completed. It was decided that the monument would be located just outside the entrance to KeySpan Park, home of the Brooklyn Cyclones, on City Parks' land, thereby making it accessible to everyone. Nearly $1.2 million has been raised to build and maintain the monument, and to landscape the surrounding area. The plaza surrounding the monument was designed by noted landscape architect Ken Smith as part of the project.
The Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese Monument was made possible through the generous contributions of 110 donors. The initial source of funding for the monument came from Ted Forstmann, Senior Partner of Forstmann Little & Co. Early commitments to the project were also made by both the New York Mets and New York Yankees. Another notable donation came from a group of students at P.S. 7 Brooklyn Abraham Lincoln, who collected pennies and selected this project as one of the recipients of their fundraising efforts. The largest gift of $200,000, which led to the completion of the fundraising for the project, was made by Bob Daly, former Chairman and CEO of Warner Bros. and former Managing Partner of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
"I grew up in Brooklyn and have been a Dodger fan since I was six years old," said Daly. "Jackie Robinson was my favorite player and Pee Wee Reese is someone I always looked up to. The image of Reese and Robinson together has always had great significance for me because it represents what I truly believe: that people should be judged solely based upon their talent and what they contribute to the team. Pee Wee Reese helped to make that possible by accepting Robinson by that simple gesture. This is the reason why I am willing to put up this money for the monument because it had such a strong impact on me as a young man growing up in Brooklyn."
The Monument itself is two 8-foot-tall bronze figures that stand on a six-sided pedestal inscribed with the following words:
"This monument honors Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese: teammates, friends, and men of courage and conviction. Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball, Reese supported him, and together they made history. In May 1947, on Cincinnati's Crosley Field, Robinson endured racist taunts, jeers, and death threats that would have broken the spirit of a lesser man. Reese, captain of the Brooklyn Dodgers, walked over to his teammate Robinson and stood by his side, silencing the taunts of the crowd. This simple gesture challenged prejudice and created a powerful and enduring friendship."
Brief biographical sketches of Robinson and Reese are also included:
"On April 15, 1947 Robinson first took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers, breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball. In the face of hostility, he remained steadfast, winning his way into the hall of fame and the hearts of baseball fans. Robinson was a champion of the game of baseball, of justice, and of civil rights.
"Known as Pee Wee, Reese was captain of the Brooklyn Dodgers during the late 1940's and the early 1950's. He risked his career when he stood by Jackie Robinson against prejudiced fans and fellow players. With this act of defiance, the hall of fame shortstop became a powerful and influential model of true humanity."
Edward Skyler/Jennifer Falk