"With a swoop like that of a chicken hawk, Collins would gather up the bunt and throw it accurately to whoever should receive it. The beauty about him was that he could throw from any angle, any position on the ground or in the air."
- John B. Foster, Spalding Guide, 1902
James Joseph "Jimmy" Collins (1870-1943) was a major league baseball player at the turn of the 20th century who was widely regarded as the greatest fielding third baseman of all time for decades, until the arrival of Brooks Robinson in the late 1960s. Collins was no slouch with the bat either, batting over .300 five times. In 1903, as player-manager, he led the Boston Pilgrims (now the Boston Red Sox) to the first ever World Series title.
Born in Niagara Falls, New York, Collins grew up in Buffalo, where as a youth he became a sandlot legend. He broke into professional baseball at the tender age of 13, playing for the Eastern League's Buffalo franchise. In 1894, he batted .352, which garnered him the attention of the Louisville Colonels of the National League, who snapped up his contract in time for the 1895 season, but soon sold him to the Boston Beaneaters.
In 14 major league seasons, Collins compiled a .294 lifetime batting average. His best year at the plate came in 1897, when he hit a career-best .346 and batted in 132 runs. He had a pretty amazing year in 1898 as well, batting .328 with 111 RBI and leading the National League with 15 home runs.
But Collins' biggest contributions came with his glovework at third base. In those days bunting up the third base line had been a pretty effective way to get on base, but Collins made it a much more dangerous gambit, as he is credited with being the first player to charge madly up the line, barehand the ball, and fire across his body to first base in one smooth motion - a play third basemen are called upon to make routinely nowadays. Collins is also credited with being the first third basemen to regularly run down the left field line to catch short flies, a task which had previously been felt to be the job of the leftfielder. His ridiculous 601 total chances accepted in 1899 remains a National League record for third basemen to this day.
In 1901 Collins was signed to be player-manager by the crosstown Boston Puritans of the upstart American League. In 1903, Collins led Boston, now known as the Pilgrims, to the AL pennant and an appearance in the first ever World Series - an event which Collins played a significant role in establishing. American League president Ban Johnson was reluctant to agree to the interleague contest because he feared that the Pilgrims would not be able to stand up to the mighty Pittsburgh Pirates, who were led by the great Honus Wagner and had just won their third straight National League pennant. But Collins, who was a tireless booster of the World Series idea, assured Johnson that he had the pitching to shut down the powerful Pirates lineup.
At first things looked grim for Collins and the Pilgrims as Pittsburgh won three out of the first four games of the nine-game series. But in one of the greatest comebacks in sports history, the Pilgrims won four games straight to take the first World Series title in thrilling fashion. For the series the Pilgrims pitching staff, led by 39-year-old Cy Young, held Honus Wagner - a .329 lifetime hitter - to a miniscule .214 batting average, including only one single in his final 14 at-bats.
The victory made Collins a hero, not only to Boston's fervent fanclub, the "Royal Rooters," but also in his hometown of Buffalo, where he was greeted as a conquering hero at the train station with a brass band and a parade through the city to the Iroquois Hotel where a party was held to which the entire town was invited.
Collins led the Pilgrims to a second consecutive pennant in 1904, but there was no World Series that year because John McGraw refused to let his Giants play in it. In 1907, Collins was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies, where he played one more season before retiring from the majors in 1908.
Collins played a few more seasons in the minor leagues, until 1911, and then lived out the rest of his days in Buffalo. Financially ruined by the Great Depression, Collins spent his final years as an employee of the Buffalo Parks. He passed away in 1943, was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee the following year, and was enshrined in 1945.
<< Eddie Collins - Baseball Hall of Famers - Earle Combs >>