One of the few ballplayers with a palindromic last name, Johnny Reder is also one of just four natives of Poland (as of 2015) to play in the major leagues. To first reach the majors and play for the Boston Red Sox was a real comedown in athletic competition. He was used to playing before larger crowds and in national championship games. And the 1932 Red Sox were hardly contenders for the American League pennant. Reder had been a national soccer star in the US before becoming a big-league ballplayer.
Lublin, Poland, was where John Anthony Reder was born on September 24, 1909 – a city in Eastern Poland, southeast of Warsaw but much closer to the border with Russia. His parents were John and Nellie Reder, who emigrated to the United States in 1912. At the time of the 1920 census, John was working as a teamster at a mill in Fall River, Massachusetts, south of Boston and close to Rhode Island. Nellie worked as a weaver in a cotton mill. They housed a boarder named Mike Reder, who’d come to America in 1914 and worked as a carder in the mill.
Johnny went to the parish school, St. Stanislaus School, which had been founded in 1906, attending eight years and then to the public high school for four years, B.M.C. Durfee High. His first year of professional baseball, he told the Hall of Fame, was in 1928 with the Harrisburg Senators, but his name doesn’t turn up in that year’s team records. In 1929, he moved from Fall River amateur soccer to the ranks of the professionals, playing as a goalkeeper in the American Soccer League. The league drew good crowds; the September 15 game in New Bedford (a 2-2 tie) drew 5,000. As they progressed in competition, some 7,000 people turned out at Mark Stadium in Fall River for the Eastern semifinal match to see Fall River beat Pawtucket, 5-2. And that turnout was dwarfed by the 17,000 who poured into the Polo Grounds for the Eastern final of National Challenge Cup play of the United States Football Association on March 16, 1930. Bethlehem and Fall River tied, 1-1. Bethlehem went down, 3-2, in a game on the 23rd. The action was sometimes intense; a hard shot by Cleveland’s Bobby Wilson “brought Reder to his knees, but the Fall River goalie cleared quickly.” [New York Times, March 31, 1930] And Fall River took the first game of the national championship finals, 7-2. Reder’s team became the US champion.
Twelve thousand came out in New Bedford a couple of months later to watch the Rangers of Scotland come to America and take on the US championship team; the Rangers beat Fall River, 3-2. There were holdouts in soccer, too, and in the fall of 1930 John Reder was a holdout. When his signing was reported by the Associated Press on October 12, it was written, “His acquisition places Fall River on a par with any team in the American Soccer League.” In February 1931, US champion Fall River took on the visiting Velez Sarsfield team from Buenos Aires, Argentina, and won, 5-2. It was the first defeat the Argentines had suffered after 15 games on tour in Chile, Peru, Cuba, Mexico, and the United States. [New York Times, February 23, 1932]
Then Reder took a job playing for the New York Yankees. As goalie. This was not the baseball team, but an American Soccer League team of the same name. On March 7, 1931, his Yankees beat his ex-mates from Fall River, 4-1. Again, he tended goal for a championship club. The Yankees won the Eastern title over the Newark Americans at the Polo Grounds, 6-1 on March 22. An April 5 game, also at the Polo Grounds, saw the Chicago Bricklayers fall to the Yankees, 6-2. The Yankees continued with league play and only “a brilliant exhibition of goal tending by Johnny Reder” saved them from their first defeat, as they fought to a 1-1 tie against New Bedford. Reder had 22 saves. [New York Times, April 6, 1931] The Yankees won the national soccer championship on April 19 in Chicago, beating the Bricklayers again, 2-0.
Reder continued playing soccer right into 1932, winning yet another American Soccer League championship on January 3 with another team (the New York Giants) and another shutout, 6-0 over New Bedford on a soggy Polo Grounds field. Was it luck or was it talent? Reder then joined the New Bedford eleven and beat the Giants in the Eastern finals of the National Challenge Cup, yet again in New York. [New York Times, February 22, 1932]
Three weeks later, Reder was in Savannah, Georgia, playing for the Boston Red Sox and trying to win an infield job. He hit a two-run ninth-inning home run off Hod Lisenbee in an intrasquad game, giving the Yannigans a 4-3 win over the regulars. Reder made the Red Sox and debuted on April 16 at Fenway Park, but saw the Sox bow to the Yankees (the noted baseball aggregation), 14-4. He’d pinch-hit for pitcher Wilcy Moore in the third inning.
Reder’s first hit came a week later, in his third appearance, playing first base and batting third in the order, a two-base hit – the only extra-base hit of his career. Washington won the game at Griffith Stadium, 5-0. At Yankee Stadium on the 29th, he drove in his first runs, one in the fifth and one in the top of the ninth. Reder stood 6 feet tall and had a playing weight of 187 pounds, according to his Hall of Fame questionnaire. He batted right and threw right, and played with Boston through the game of June 12, batting .135 in 37 at-bats, with one double and three RBIs. He appeared in 10 games at first base and one at third, making one error in each position.
Reder was asked to spend the rest of the year with the Hazleton Mountaineers, the Red Sox farm club in the Class B New York-Penn League. There he hit .277 in 42 games. Then he was back in goal playing for Fall River, and administered a 6-0 shutout to the Boston Football Club on Christmas Day.
Each of the following three years, Reder improved his batting average. The New York-Penn League was upgraded to Class A status, the Red Sox switched their farm team to Reading, and Reder played there in 1933 and 1934. Manager Nemo Leibold suggested in ’33 that he try his hand at pitching. Reder did, and performed creditably, if not well. He was 33-31 over the five years he pitched, with an earned-run average of 4.84 in 619 innings of work. He hid nothing but pitch in 1933 and ’35, but in 1934 he also played 37 games at first base. For Reading, his batting average was .281 in 1933 and .308 in 1934.
In 1935, Reder played for the Williamsport Grays, a Philadelphia Athletics farm club, and hit .318. In the league MVP voting, some were uncertain how to vote for him in that he had pitched in 26 games, played the outfield in 26 games, played 15 games at third base, and played 13 games at first. Johnny prevailed in the balloting, receiving 35 of a possible 64 points. He’d been exceptionally popular in Williamsport and fans there even held a night for him when he received $100 in cash and 24 other gifts, one of which was a pair of shoes. On his night, Reder proved his versatility by playing every position on the field, starting on the mound, then catching, and then making the rounds of each position. [The Sporting News, October 31, 1935]
Reder had actually been assigned to Syracuse for spring training in 1935 but declined, feeling he wouldn’t get enough playing time, so Leibold loaned him to Mike McNally’s Williamsport Grays. In 1936 he was firmly back in the Boston system, playing in the Double-A International League for the Syracuse Chiefs, batting .270 (and having his worst year on the mound, 3-6 with a 7.88 ERA). He even showed the Red Sox a little bit of his stuff, pitching against them in an exhibition game on June 16, which Syracuse won, 7-5. The year ended on a better note than his pitching line might indicate when he married Louise Flanagan in the late fall. A note in the October 29 Sporting News said he was still a “soccer star” in the offseason.
Things got a little confusing, then, as Reder started the 1937 season with Syracuse at first base, but had his spot taken by Dan Cosgrove. Then, within a few weeks both Reder and Cosgrove were gone, with Frank McCormick taking the position. Reder was taken off the active list, but he reconnected with the Grays and wound back up in Williamsport. He must have still had some admirers there. Even as a utility player, and despite hitting just .258 (he’d been .184 for the Chiefs), he earned six points in the MVP voting. But his career was at a close.
After baseball, Reder became a stationary engineer (later rising to become chief engineer) at J.J. Corrugated Box Company of Fall River. He served in the United States Navy in 1943-45. He and Louise divorced at some point, after having one son, also named John. He died on April 12, 1990, of a long-standing atherosclerotic cardiovascular condition.
In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed the online SABR Encyclopedia, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com.