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Reese remembered as everyone's friend


ANAHEIM, Calif. -- When last the California Angels were at Camden Yards, the club's trainer, Rick Smith, made plans to pick up Orioles third base coach Jerry Narron at the team hotel in Anaheim and take him to visit an old friend.

The meeting was supposed to take place yesterday, but beloved Angels coach Jimmie Reese, the old friend Narron was to visit, died Wednesday at the age of 92.

"I had a message when I got here last night from Rick telling me he passed away," Narron said yesterday.

Narron and wife Linda's fifth child was named Connor Reese after Jimmie, who befriended Narron during his days as backup catcher with the Angels.

"He definitely was one of the most popular people to ever put on a uniform," Narron said. "He had a very positive attitude about himself. Even if he had a bad day he had something good to say to you."

Reese spanned several generations. He was close friends with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, Reggie Jackson and Nolan Ryan, Jim Abbott and countless other stars. Ryan named one of his sons Reese in honor of his friend.

But not only stars befriended him.

"He took a lot of time with people like me who were the 24th or 25th guy on the roster," said Narron. "He definitely wasn't a front-runner."

Starting with last night's game against the Orioles, Angels players and coaches wore a patch bearing Reese's No. 50 on their sleeves.

Reese, who changed his given name of James Hymie Solomon for fear of encountering anti-Semitism, repeatedly was noted for two things. He roomed with Ruth, or as Reese used to like to say, "I roomed with Babe Ruth's bags."

Second, he tirelessly hit fungoes to Angels fielders before games. He even pitched batting practice with his fungo bat on occasion.

His baseball career began in 1917 when he was the mascot and batboy for the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League. He played second base for the New York Yankees in 1930 and 1931, but spent most of his playing career in the minors.

"He loved the game, loved being part of the game," Narron said. "He was a baseball guy."

A baseball guy who spoke in baseball parlance. "Hey Mullion, how are you doing today?" was one of Reese's favorite sayings. Mullion is baseball-speak for an ugly person.

"He was friends with everyone," said Orioles second baseman Mark McLemore, who started his career with the Angels. "Good man. There aren't many people you run across in life who are genuinely good people. He was definitely one of them.

"You don't really have much sense for how much someone means to you until you aren't around him anymore. There aren't many people I missed when I left here, but there are a few and he was one of them."

Said Narron: "He liked to get on guys and have a good time and liked for guys to get on him. He treated everybody outstanding, always had a smile, always had something good to say."

Said McLemore: "I had a chance to talk with him when we were in last trip and he was the same old Jimmie. He came up to me and said, 'Hey, you big donkey.' "

Baseball honored Reese before last night's game with a moment of silence.

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