Jimmy Collins "Pride of the
From Memories and Dreams, the Hall of Fame's Quarterly
Magazine Available to Friends of the Hall of Fame Members
Hall of Fame third
baseman Jimmy Collins
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By Roger I. Abrams
In 1901, Ban Johnson, the president of
the new American League, saw a great business opportunity. He challenged the
National League for the patronage of America's baseball fans. Johnson
knew he had to attract the National League's best ballplayers to the American
side, and drew up a list of the 46 stars he wanted in American League uniforms.
All but Pittsburgh's
loyal Wagner would eventually jump to the new circuit. Near the top of
Johnson's list was the premier third baseman in the game, James Joseph Collins,
a future member of baseball's Hall of Fame. Jimmy Collins, the pride of Boston's Irish, would
lead the Hub's American League franchise to baseball glory.
Jimmy Collins hailed from Buffalo, New York,
where his father was a policeman. A graduate of St. Joseph's
Collegiate Institute, he broke into organized baseball in 1893 with the Buffalo club in the
Eastern League. As a major league rookie in 1895 with the National League's
Louisville Colonels, Collins revolutionized play around third base. Traditionally,
the third sacker fielded the position standing near the bag, leaving to the
shortstop the responsibility for all grounders to his left and ignoring the
ever-present threat of a bunt.
During a contest between Louisville and the Baltimore Orioles, Colonels
third baseman Walter Preston did just that, allowing the Orioles to
successfully bunt seven times down the third base line. In the middle of the
manager John J. McCloskey offered left fielder Fred Clarke an extra $50 a month
to play third. Clarke declined the offer, but suggested using rookie Collins.
Unfamiliar with the "traditions" of the position, Collins charged in
on bunt attempts and threw barehanded to first base.
He later recalled that the first batter
"bunted and I came in as fast as I dared, picked up the ball, and threw it
underhanded to first base. He was out. (Wee Willie) Keeler tried it, and I
nailed him by a step. I had to throw out four bunters
in a row before the Orioles quit bunting." One newspaper described him as
charging "with a swoop like a chicken hawk." Soon all third basemen
would follow Collins' lead in fielding bunts at third.
At the close of the 1895 season, Boston's National League Beaneaters purchased Collins' contract, and he became an
instant crowd favorite of the Irish baseball fanatics. The "cranks"
packed the shabby South End Grounds on Columbus Avenue to cheer for Collins,
pitcher Kid Nichols and outfielders Hugh Duffy and Billy Hamilton, as the local
club won the National League pennant in 1897 and 1898.
In March 1901, Ban Johnson's league made
headlines when Boston
owner Charles Somers signed Collins as manager, captain and third baseman for
the Hub's new American League club at more than twice his previous salary. As
the undisputed leader of the Boston
entry, Collins convinced three former teammates - Chick Stahl, Buck Freeman and
Bill Dinneen - to join the American side. As a
Irish switched their allegiance to American League baseball. When owner Somers
procured the services of the greatest pitcher of the year, Denton True
"Cy" Young, the Boston
club was destined for success.
THE FIRST WORLD SERIES Johnson's business
plan to create a powerful rival league worked brilliantly, although he was
aided by disarray on the part of National League magnates. By January 1903, the
National League conceded defeat in the economic wars. In the Cincinnati peace agreement, the magnates
ended their battle and agreed to respect each others' reserve lists of players.
Surprisingly, the pact did not create a post-season championship tournament
between the leagues' pennant victors.
The 1903 regular season produced two
runaway victors, the mighty Pittsburgh Pirates, who captured their third
straight National League title, and the Boston Americans, who had won their
first league crown. In early August, Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss
challenged the Boston
club to a post-season championship series:
"The time has come for the National
League and American League to organize a World Series. It is my belief that if
our clubs played a series on a best-out-of-nine basis, we would create great
interest in baseball, in our leagues, and in our players. I also believe it
would be a financial success," Dreyfuss wrote.
After league president Johnson gave his
blessing, Collins negotiated the details with Dreyfuss.
It would take five wins to clinch the first World Series, set to start on
October 1, 1903, at Boston's
Huntington Avenue Grounds. After three games in Boston,
the clubs would travel west to Pittsburgh, the
for four contests, before returning to Boston,
As the series approached, newspapers
reported that both Boston and Pittsburgh had become "baseball
mad." This then would be the match-up: A three-time National League pennant
winning club led by Wagner's hitting and fielding against the upstart American
League champions from Boston, led by Collins with veteran pitching from Young
and Dinneen. The first modern World Series would
become the stuff of history: "These things," the Boston Herald
proclaimed at the time, "can never be properly told, but they will go down
in history with the spectators who heard and saw them."
At the center of the action was Collins,
whose work around the "hot corner" was notable and who was among the
league's best hitters "in the pinch." Jacob C. Morse, the Boston
Herald's baseball expert, reported that the inhabitants of the bleachers of
this country would elect Collins "the supreme 'it' of the baseball
fraternity…. The secret of it is that Jim Collins is just chock
full of baseball." He and his teammates would not disappoint their loyal
supporters, although at first things looked gloomy for the Boston nine.
October 1, 1903, was a mild, cloudy,
early fall day in Boston.
By 2 p.m., the 9,000 bench seats down both foul lines of the Huntington Avenue
Grounds were taken, but the crowds continued to roll in waves from the trolley
fan club - the Royal Rooters - decked out in their finest black suits, high
white collars, and black derbies with ticket stubs stuck in the hatbands,
strutted into the Grounds led by saloon owner Mike "Nuf
Ced" McGreevey. Each club had supplied one umpire for the game -
Hank O'Day by the Nationals and Tommy Connolly by the
megaphone man, Charles Moore, finished announcing the lineups to all parts of
the field, and the appointed time of 3 p.m. had arrived. A gong sounded, and
umpire Connolly barked "Play!" Young took the mound for the Boston squad.
The Pirates would win that first game
(7-3) and two out of the first three games, including the memorable third
contest before an overflow crowd of 18,000 boisterous fans. The Pirates would
win the first contest in Pittsburgh's Exposition Park,
rallied back to take the next three games. On October 13, 1903, on a cold, dark
and overcast day in Boston,
Dinneen would clinch the series with a four-hit
shutout of the mighty Pirates. "Collins' boys," as the newspapers
referred to the Boston Americans - they would not be called the Red Sox until 1907
- had triumphed.
The crowd rushed from the grandstands,
and, jubilant in victory, raised Collins to their shoulders to salute the
captain. The Royal Rooters then repaired to McGreevey's
saloon for a proper celebration of the victory. (McGreevey
called his establishment the Third Base Saloon because, as he often explained,
you always needed to touch third before heading home.)
In 14 seasons in the major leagues,
Collins compiled a .294 batting average. He hit .300 or better five times,
including .346 in 1897, his best year. In 1950, The Sporting News named Collins
its third baseman of the century. He rarely struck out. He changed forever the
way third basemen played their position. Collins was elected to the National
Baseball Hall of Fame in 1945, along with Clarke, Duffy and Jennings, and other Irish heroes
"King" Kelly, Jim O'Rourke, Roger Bresnahan,
Dan Brouthers, Ed Delahanty
and Wilbert Robinson. Collins' contribution to the history of the National
Game, however, extended far beyond his glove and his bat. The spirited leader
of the first World Series champions, he played the game "in the
clutch." It was a matter of enormous pride to the Irish immigrant
community to watch their fellow countrymen succeed on the ball field, and
Collins was foremost in their hearts.
Roger I. Abrams is the Richardson
Professor of Law at Northeastern University School
of Law in Boston.
An authority on sports law, he has published three books on the National
Pastime, The First World
Series and The Baseball Fanatics of 1903, The Money Pitch: Baseball Free
Agency and Salary Arbitration, and Legal Bases: Baseball and the Law.
He has served as a baseball salary arbitrator and is an elected member of the
National Academy of Arbitrators and the American Law Institute.