Bobby Reis is one of the true “utility” players of the 1930s. Reis began his career as an infielder, spent a couple of years in the outfield, and then, when things didn’t work out as Reis might have liked, his managers recognized that his strong throwing arm meant he might be able to help as a pitcher – so he did that, too.
Reis learned the game playing in the lots and parks in and around Manhattan, Born 2 January, 1909 in Woodside, NY, and a graduate of Flushing High School, Reis left the big city and a future in banking (he turned down a chance to go to NYU while working for a bank) when an opportunity to play professionally presented itself in Rocky Mount, NC in 1929. Joining the Buccaneers for the last two months of the season, Reis hit .373 with a little power and caught the eyes of a Brooklyn Robins scout who signed Reis as an infielder. For Brooklyn, he homered in an exhibition game, but didn’t get the call for a league game. (1)(3)
Brooklyn manager Max Carey saw talent, but it was still raw, so he was sent to Macon in the South Atlantic (SALLY) League, where he learned to play third base and continued to hit – albeit at a bit lower clip (.281). He also missed time with a broken leg. The best thing about playing in Macon was the tremendous company around him. Reis played with Paul Richards, Bobo Newsom, Alta Cohen, Phil Gallivan, Johnny Mann, Earl Mattingly, Monroe Mitchell, Jimmy Pattison, and Joe Vance – all future major leaguers. (1) (2) (12)
After a third solid season in 1931, this time playing in the Eastern League for Hartford, Reis got the call to join the Robins in September where he got five hits in seventeen at bats playing a couple of games here and there. The Sporting News announced his arrival a few weeks early, noting that he was in the running for a batting crown and playing a decent third base. He appeared to have a shot at making the big league club in 1932, but it didn’t work out – so he was dispatched to Jersey City, where he stumbled just a little. Brooklyn, stocked with infielders, sold Reis to Toledo of the American Association. No longer primarily an infielder, Reis was playing wherever management wanted. In 1933 and 1934, he spent nearly equal amounts of time playing shortstop, third base, and the outfield. (2) (3)
More importantly, though, his batting came back. Reis hit .323 with 31 doubles, 14 triples, and 10 homers for the 1933 campaign, and continued to club the ball in 1934, hitting .297 with 56 more extra-base hits. Reis was a run producer, too – in 1934, Reis scored 90 runs while driving in 89 more runs.
In 1935, Reis was in the majors with the Robins as Casey Stengel envisioned Reis as a player who could help out in many different ways. The Sporting News called Reis a “Jack of All Trades”, reflecting on his hitting, baserunning, and value at four or more positions. Stengel was less impressed – Reis hit just .247 with little power and didn’t wow with the glove. However, Reis had a strong arm and Stengel allowed Reis to throw batting practice to see if he could pitch. Raw and wild, Reis was successful enough to get fourteen appearances for Brooklyn, including two starts. Reis went 3-2 with a 2.83 ERA – even though he walked 24 men (with just seven strikeouts) in 41.1 innings. (3)
One wire-service article that made the rounds about Reis discussed is easy-going manner on the field. “Reis has the temperment to become a successful pitcher… When signaled in the bullpen to start warming up, Bobby goes about his work with the same nonchalance he goes through fielding practice. Called to the box he heaves the ball with the same unconcerned motion he uses when throwing from third or short to first when the ball was being tossed around to limber up the arm. The same unconcern is manifested when he faces a batter with men on the bases and accepting the words, “throw them where the batter does not want them.”
At the end of the season, though, Brooklyn went shopping for a pitcher, and acquired Ed Brandt and outfielder Randy Moore for four players. Heading to the Boston Braves were Al Lopez, Tony Cuccinello, Ray Benge, and – at the insistence of Bill McKechnie – Bobby Reis. (5)
Listing the positions of the players, The Sporting News called Bobby Reis a “what-is-it.”
“The what-is-it has had a most peculiar existance since he entered professional ball. He started life as a shortstop and a third baseman, gave that up because his handling of ground balls was too erratic. At Toledo, he shifted to the outfield where he was a fielding sensation. But his experience at bat last season as a Brooklyn utility outfielder seemed to impress upon him his futility against big league pitching.
“Having a naturally strong throwing arm, Reis decided to become a pitcher. His ability to make Brooklyn regulars look rather foolish in batting practice convinced Stengel that he had a chance.
“Sent in under fire as a relief worker, Reis did well enough to establish himself as a real hurling prospect. Now it is up to Bill McKechnie to decide whether Reis is an infielder, an outfielder or a pitcher.” (4)
In 1936, Reis was more regularly seen on the mound – he threw 138.2 innings, making 35 appearances on the mound and finishing 24 games. He also walked 74 batters while striking out 25. In 1937, he pitched just four times in blowouts, but spent more time as a pinch hitter and utility outfielder, getting nearly 100 plate appearances and batting .244. Boston gave him one more shot in 1938, and Reis wasn’t up to the challenge, hitting .184, and going 1-6 with a 4.99 ERA. Another Reis was given a shot with the Braves that year – Bobby’s younger brother John, a catcher, was brought to spring training but never made the club. (6)
Reis wasn’t done as a player, but he was done with the majors. His rights were sent to the St. Paul Saints where he would spend two more seasons as an infielder/outfielder/spare pitcher. In the off-season, Reis opened a downtown cocktail lounge, which became his second career after the 1940 season ended. With a bunch of players off to war, Reis helped the Saints in a few games in 1943, but was never bound to be a regular again. Instead, he took up semi-professional ball for a few years and even coached a nine in Faribault, MN. (10) (11)
St. Paul suited Reis, though, and he stayed in the city – active in baseball alumni events – until was called to the final field on May 1, 1973.
(1) “Bobby Reis is Home town Boy who is Making Good with Detroit Club”, Cameron, Stuart, Nevada State Journal, 3/27/1932, Pg. 7.
(2) Connors, R.J., “Minors Worth Watching”, The Sporting News, 8/13/1931, Pg.3.
(3) “Jack of All Trades”, The Sporting News, 12/13/1934, Pg. 1.
(4) “Brandt Gives Casey More Elbow Room”, The Sporting News, 12/19/1935, Pg. 1.
(5) “Brooklyn Tosses Out Brandt’s 1935 Figures”, The Sporting News, 1/2/1936, Pg 1.
(6) “20 Pitchers ‘Pour’ at Bees Big Party”, The Sporting News, 3/4/1937, Pg. 1.
(7) “Pitching Pegs St. Paul High in A.A. Race Again”, The Sporting News, 1/26/1939.
(8) “Many of ’39 Saints Ready to Take Wing”, The Sporting News.
(9) “Bobby Reis Outstanding Experiments of Year”, Romano, John J., Connellsville Daily Courier, 9/4/1935, Pg. 7
(10) “Springfielders Hand Tigers First Defeat”, Runn, Hittan, Albert Lea Evening Tribune, 7/27/1945 Pg. 6.
(11) Albert Lea Evening Tribune, 4/19/1947, Pg. 7