- OF, 2B, 3B, SS
- January 16, 1870
- 5' 9"
- 178 lbs
- Major League Debut:
- 4-19-1895 with BSN
- Hall of Fame:
Universally considered to be the greatest third baseman to play in the National League prior to Pie Traynor, Jimmy Collins gained widespread acclaim during his career for his exceptional fielding ability. Playing during the Dead Ball Era, when speed and bunting were such integral parts of the game, Collins stood out for his ability to handle bunts and slow choppers better than anyone else at the hot corner. In fact, those who saw him play claimed no one else even rivaled him as a fielder. The first to charge bunts and play them barehanded, Collins also had the ability to range equally well toward the line, or into the shortstop hole to his left. Playing for the Boston Beaneaters in 1899, Collins accepted a National League record 629 chances. He set a 20th century mark the following year by accumulating 252 putouts. Collins topped all third basemen in his league in putouts five times, assists four times, and double plays twice, and he still ranks second all-time with 2,372 putouts at third base. Also an outstanding hitter, Collins batted over .300 on five separate occasions, compiling a lifetime mark of .294. He led the National League with 15 home runs in 1898, while also topping the circuit in total bases, driving in more than 100 runs for the second straight season, and scoring more than 100 runs for the second of four times.
Born in Buffalo, New York on January 16, 1870, James Joseph Collins was already 25 years old by the time he joined the National League’s Boston Beaneaters in 1895. Appearing in 11 games in the outfield for Boston, Collins struggled at the plate during the early stages of the season, compiling a batting average of just .211 in his first 38 major league at-bats. Feeling that Collins still needed to work on his skills, the Beaneaters loaned him to the last-place Louisville Colonels, a rather common practice at the time when a player on a contending team needed further seasoning. Shifted to third base by Louisville, Collins went on to hit seven home runs, drive in 57 runs, and bat .273 over the course of the season. Returned to Boston prior to the start of the 1896 campaign, Collins saw a limited amount of playing time during the season’s first half, before eventually establishing himself as the team’s starting third baseman. He finished the year with one homer, 46 runs batted in, and a .296 batting average, in just over 300 official at-bats.
Collins developed into a full-fledged star in 1897, when he hit six home runs, batted .346, accumulated 13 triples, scored 103 runs, and finished second in the National League with a career-high 132 runs batted in. He followed that up by leading the league with 15 home runs and 286 total bases in 1898, while also scoring 107 runs and placing among the leaders with 111 runs batted in, 35 doubles, 196 hits, a .328 batting average, and a .479 slugging percentage.
In spite of the offensive prowess Collins displayed in his first two full major league seasons, he became known more for his exceptional fielding ability. Generally regarded as the forerunner of the modern-day third baseman, his powerful arm, outstanding range, and great quickness helped him to revolutionize play at the hot corner. Best known for his ability to field bunts, Collins developed a reputation second to none in terms of his defensive skills (prior to his arrival, the shortstop typically fielded bunts down the third base line). John B. Foster wrote in 1902’s Spalding Guide, “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.”
As Collins continued to establish himself as easily the game’s finest third baseman, he put together two more solid offensive years for the Beaneaters in 1899 and 1900. After driving in 92 runs and scoring 98 others for Boston in 1899, he knocked in 95 runs, scored another 104, and batted .304 the following year.
With the formation of the rival American League in 1901, Collins accepted an offer to join the new circuit’s Boston entry – the Pilgrims, who eventually came to be known as the Red Sox. He spent the next six-and-a-half years serving as the team’s player-manager, excelling on the field, while also leading Boston to pennants in 1903 and 1904. He had his finest season for his new team in 1901, driving in 94 runs, scoring 108 others, batting .332, and establishing career highs with 16 triples and 42 doubles. Collins also batted .322 the following year, before seeing his offensive numbers gradually decline over the course of the next few seasons. Boston won the first modern World Series in 1903, but was denied an opportunity to repeat as world champions when the N.L. pennant-winning New York Giants refused a postseason match-up the following year.
After Collins knocked in only 10 runs in his first 41 games in 1907, Boston traded him to the Philadelphia Athletics. He finished out the year as Philadelphia’s starting third baseman, batting .272 and driving in 35 runs for his new team. Collins batted just .217 in 115 games for the A’s the following year, prompting team owner and manager Connie Mack to release him at the end of August. Mack replaced Collins at third base with Frank “Home Run” Baker, another future Hall of Famer. Collins retired at the end of the year with 65 career home runs, 983 runs batted in, 1,055 runs scored, 1,999 hits, 116 triples, and a .294 batting average. In addition to batting over .300 five times and scoring more than 100 runs four times, he knocked in more than 100 runs twice, finished in double-digits in triples six times, and stole more than 20 bases on two separate occasions.
After retiring as an active player, Collins managed in the minor leagues through 1911, when he retired to his native Buffalo. He lived there comfortably for almost two decades, before the Depression forced him to take a job as a Buffalo parks employee. Collins lived until March 6, 1943, passing away at his home less than two months after celebrating his 73rd birthday. The members of the Old Timers Committee inducted him into the Hall of Fame two years later, in 1943, making him the first third baseman to be so honored. Collins preceded Pie Traynor into Cooperstown by three years, even though the former Pittsburgh third sacker was eligible for induction when the committee elected Collins.
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