Posts Tagged ‘Jimmy Collins’

My Own Little Hall of Fame: Class of 1914

April 1, 2015

The My Little Hall of Fame class that is 1914 enters the Hall in a dark period of human history. I always presume the election is held in December of the year (about the time real Hall of Fame ballots are released) so the voters and inductees will all know that World War I was wrecking Europe when the Hall results are announced. In her wonderful book The Guns of August, Barbara Tuchman informs us that the French military academy lost the entire graduating class of 1914 to the war. Fortunately for both the voters and the Hall honorees, the US was still on the sidelines in 1914, so the Hall election is still a main topic and a time of joy for the fans. Here’s the Class of 1914:

Jimmy Collins

Jimmy Collins

James Joseph Collins was a star third baseman between 1895 and 1908. He played for both the National League Boston team and the American League Boston team before finishing his career in Philadelphia. An outstanding defender of the Hot Corner he led his league in putouts, assists, and double plays on many occasions. In 1898 he led the league in home runs. As the first player-manager of the American League Boston team he led his team to two pennants and the first ever World Series victory.

Joe "Iron Man" McGinnity

Joe “Iron Man” McGinnity

Between 1899 and 1908 Joseph McGinnity averaged 25 wins per season, winning 30 or more games twice. He earned the nickname “Iron Man” for pitching both games of a double-header, doing so three times in one month in 1903. In that same season he set the National League record for complete games and innings pitched (post-1892). In postseason play he led Brooklyn to a win in the Chronicle-Telegraph Series of 1900 and helped his team to a victory in the 1905 World Series.

And now the commentary:

1. First a disclaimer. It seems that Joe McGinnity was known as “Ironman” because he worked in an iron foundry prior to playing Major League baseball. But the legend of his double-header success leading to his nickname was already around in 1914. I chose to use the mythological reasoning for the nickname because it seemed to be more commonly accepted in the era.

2. Collins is arguably the finest third baseman in baseball prior to Home Run Baker (Deacon White might argue that). It seemed his acceptance into an early Hall of Fame would be easy. He was also popular from all his years in Boston and his World Series win was already legendary (although Cy Young and Bill Dinneen were getting most of the credit).

2, McGinnity was also an easy choice. He had a lot of wins, a ton of innings pitched (he averaged 344 innings a season over his 10 year career, going over 400 twice). The complete games and innings pitched records still stand. He also pitched for both National League teams in New York which made him something of a celebrity. He was, however, seen as the second pitcher behind Christy Mathewson in the latter part of his career. That doesn’t seem to have changed the way he was viewed.

3. 1915 doesn’t add just a whole lot in quality players for consideration for the Class of 1915. Among everyday players George Davis finally shows up. Among pitchers there is Jack Chesbro.  The addition of Davis will move the backlog of everyday players to 21, so someone has to be dropped or someone has to make the Class of 1915. Frankly I’m not sold on Davis as an early inductee. His rise to prominence is something of a creation of the more modern stats, so I don’t know what will happen yet. Chesbro was a nice pitcher, but I’m also not sold on him as an inductee, although there’s a lot of info on him because of his great 1904 season and those good years with the Pirates. With only eight names on the pitching list (including Chesbro) I can punt him down the road if necessary.

4. The Contributors list adds old-time umpire Jack Sheridan to the list. Sheridan is one of the few umpires I can find out much about. He seems to be well-respected. I’m not sure what to do with umps yet, so don’t expect anything exciting there. He will push the contributors list above my maximum of 20, so someone will either have to be elected or someone will have to be tossed onto the discarded pile. As I’m at a quandary about what to do with umpires I doubt I’ll elect Sheridan. But I also doubt he’ll be discarded simply because I’d like to err on the side of caution and keep him around until I can make some sort of decision on umpires. If someone goes off the list, it will most likely be John T. Brush. Of all the contributors on the 1915 list, he’s the one that I feel fairly safe in saying nobody liked (well, maybe Mrs. Brush). That’s not a great way to get yourself elected to much of anything.

A Dozen Things You Should Know About Jimmy Collins

April 19, 2012

Jimmy Collins

1. James J. Collins was born in 1870 in Clifton, New York (now Niagara Falls, New York) where he father was a cop. Eventually the father became chief of police for Buffalo, New York.

2. He began his career with the International League (minor league) Buffalo team in 1893. Although he started out as a third baseman, he spent most of his minor league career in the outfield.

3. In 1895 he was sold to the Boston Beaneaters (now the Braves) as an outfielder. He wasn’t very good and was loaned (they don’t do it that way anymore) to the Louisville Colonels for the bulk of the season.

4. According to the story Louisville was playing the Baltimore Orioles (not the current team) when the third baseman was having a difficult time fielding bunts, an Orioles specialty. Knowing Collins had played some third in the minors, the manager shifted him to third where he threw out four consecutive bunters. That got him a more or less permanent change to third (he played a handful of games at shortstop).

5. According to the same story Collins is supposed to have invented the third baseman charging the ball on a bunt, fielding it bare-handed, and flipping it underhand to first for the out. Maybe. But considering that gloves were relatively new, fielding a bunt bare-handed was certainly not original with Collins. Possibly he’s the first to throw the ball without standing up first.

6. He went back to Boston in 1896 settling in as the team’s primary third baseman. He generally hit around .300 and led the National League in both home runs and total bases in 1898.

7. In 1901, he jumped to the newly formed Boston Americans (now the Red Sox) of the fledgling American League, staying there into the 1907 season.

8. He became Boston’s first manager, holding the job into the 1906 season. As manager, he won pennants in 1903 and 1904.

9. The 1903 team played, and won, the first World Series (the 1800s postseason games were not called “World Series”). Collins hit .250 in the Series, scored five runs, had one RBI, and became the first manager to win a Series. In 1904 there was no World Series.

10. In 1907 he was traded to the Philadelphia Athletics, where he played through 1908, then left the Major Leagues.

11. He retired to Buffalo, made money in real estate, and worked for the city parks department.

12. He died in 1943 and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1945. At the time of his death, he was universally recognized as one of the two or three finest third basemen in Major League history.

1910: J. Frank Baker

July 7, 2010

Frank Baker

John Franklin Baker was born in Maryland in 1886. He played baseball well enough that Connie Mack brought him to the Philadelphia Athletics in 1908. The next season he took over as the regular third baseman and stayed there through 1914. During his tenure the A’s won four pennants and three World Series championships. During the period Baker hit .321 and led the American League in home runs four times (1911-14) and in RBIs twice (1912 and 1913). As good as all that sounds, he was even better in World Series play. In three winning efforts (1910, 1911, and 1913) he hit .409 with three home runs and drove in sixteen runs. His slugging percentage was .621. In 1914, the Braves shut him down, along with pretty much everybody else, and the A’s lost. The three home runs in Series play tied or won ballgames and led to his nickname “Home Run” Baker. 

Baker sat out 1915 in a salary dispute with Mack. He spent the season playing in a semipro league in Pennsylvania. At the end of the season, Mack sold him to New York. He did alright with the Yankees, but he was never as good as he had been with Philadelphia. He hit .300 once, had double figure home runs twice (10 both times) and saw his slugging average drop badly. 

In 1920 his wife died and he took the season off to be with the children. He was back in New York in 1921 in time to make it to the World Series again (I was unable to find out if he remarried or not).  In 1921 he managed nine home runs to finish third on the team behind Babe Ruth’s 59 and Bob Meusel’s 24. The Yankees lost the series to the Giants with Baker contributing two hits (both singles) for a .250 average. His ground out to second with one out the ninth inning of the final game was turned into a double play when the runner on first, AaronWard, tried to steal a run by dashing to third. The throw to third was on target and the series ended. In 1922 he played one final year, hitting .278 in 69 games. He got into the World Series going 0 for 1 in a pinch hitting role. For his career he ended up with a .307 average, 1838 hits, 96 home runs, 1013 RBIs, on OBP of .353, a slugging percentage of .442, 235 stolen bases, and six triple crown titles in 5985 games, all at third base (except for pinch-hitting duties). 

After retirement he coached and managed a little. He’s credited with discovering Jimmie Foxx. He retired to his farm in Maryland and made the Hall of Fame in 1955. He died in 1963, arguably the finest third baseman of the deadball era. 

As a fielder, Baker was both good and mediocre (bear with me a second on that). His 3.43 range factor compares well with fellow Hall of Famers Brooks Robinson and George Kell, but his fielding average is nothing to write home about. In his prime years, 1909-14, he was generally in the lower half of the league in fielding, but made up for it with decent range. One of the things I like about his fielding is that he got better. He started with fielding averages in the .920s and ended his career in the .950s. OK, those aren’t great numbers, but a lot of guys never get any better and Baker did. 

He has two number that I really like: 24 and 36. Those are the distance between his RBI totals in 1912 and 1913 and his nearest competitor. In 1912, Baker knocked in 133 runs. Sam Crawford at Detroit and Duffy Lewis at Boston each had 109 (Helps to have Eddie Collins, Ty Cobb, and Tris Speaker hitting in front of you, doesn’t it?) In 1913, he had 126. The next two guys behind him (again a tie) had 90. You don’t see that kind of domination often. In 1930, Hack Wilson set the Major League record for RBIs with 191. He won by 21. The following year Lou Gehrig set the AL record with 184. He also won by 21. Both Chuck Klein and Mickey Mantle won triple crowns. Klein won his RBI title by 14 and Mantle by only two. 

During his glory years, 1910-1914, Baker joined Cobb and Speaker as the dominant hitters of the age. And I guess that’s part of the knock on Baker. His glory years weren’t very long. But in those five years he won six triple crown titles (batting average, home runs, RBIs). So did Cobb. Speaker only got one. It’s not a bad legacy to say you could hold your own with Cobb and Speaker, even if only for five years. 

There haven’t been a lot of truly great third basemen in Major League history. In the Deadball Era there are only Baker and Jimmy Collins and I prefer Baker. With our without the nickname, Frank Baker is one of the top 10 third basemen ever and I could probably be talked into putting him in the top five.

Leading Boston to Victory

May 8, 2010

Jimmy Collins in Boston Americans uniform

Way back in baseball’s Stone Age, the American League team in Boston (they didn’t become the Red Sox until later in the period), won the first World Series. They had a great pitcher in Cy Young. They also had a dominant third baseman named Jimmy Collins. Collins doubled as the manager and led his team to victory.

Collins began his career with the National League’s Boston team, the Beaneaters, in 1895. They loaned him to Louisville for the bulk of the season (long story). By 1896 he was back in Boston where he stayed for the remainder of the 19th Century.

With the dawn of the new century Ban Johnson moved his Western League east and formed the American League. Collins moved right along with him into the new league becoming the manager of the upstart AL franchise in Boston. Both Collins and the team did well. In 1901 he managed them to second place, in 1902 they were third. In 1903 they won the pennant. Pittsburgh won the National League pennant and owner Barney Dreyfuss challenged Boston to a nine game “World’s Series” to determine who had the better team. Boston won in eight games, although Collins didn’t have a particularly good series. In 1904 they won the AL pennant again, agreed to another World Series, and ran smack up against John McGraw and the New York Giants who simply refused to play the upstart team from an upstart league.

In 1905 Boston fell back to fourth and was last in 1906. Collins hurt his knee and played only 37 games in ’06. It was his last year as manager. After 41 games in Boston in 1907 he went to Philadelphia in a trade for fellow third baseman Jack Knight. Collins went on to have one last good year, then in 1908 he hit only .217 in 115 games. The next season Frank (Home Run) Baker replaced him at third. Collins died in 1943 and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1945.

I look over his numbers and sometimes I wonder why Collins is so well regarded. As I looked at him more, I began to realize the dearth of talent at third base and realized he’s a good candidate for best third sacker of the era. Now that sounds like a backhanded compliment, “Well, there just wasn’t anybody better outta all these bums, so why not him?” And in some ways it is. Actually, third base has produced fewer great players than any other position. Most of the good hitters didn’t play defense particularly well. Most of the good glove men didn’t hit all that well.

Collins is one of the few third basemen who did both well. As a defensive player he was considered  the premier glove man of his day. In an era where the bunt was a major weapon, he was famous for being hard to bunt against. His range was excellent, holding four of the best seasonal averages ever. In the opening years of the American League he is clearly its best defensive third baseman.

He hit pretty well also. Five seasons he hit over .300. In 1898 he won a home run title with 15, his only year in double figure home runs. He had 175 hits five times, tallied 100 runs four years, and had 100 RBIs twice. All are good numbers for the era. In the twelve years he played 100 games, he averaged 156 hits, 83 runs, 28 doubles, and 77 RBIs. Again, not bad for the Deadball Era(Ya know, when I do spell check they suggest deadball should be meatball. I wonder why.). His 15 home runs in 1898 are 23% of his total and I’ve no clue why the sudden power surge. His next highest total was a rookie year seven. In his last three seasons he hit exactly one.

Jimmy Collins is one of those players whose numbers don’t jump off the page at you, but who consistently impresses if you pay attention to when he took the field. He played a pivotal role for two very good teams at the turn of the 20th Century, leading one of them to the first ever World Series title. All in all he is probably the American League’s finest third baseman in its formative years. He’s one of the reasons the league gained instant credibility and became a true rival to the National League.

The Antithesis of Baltimore

March 25, 2010

Kid Nichols

There were two truly great teams playing in the National League in the 1890’s. Very few teams have been more unalike. The Orioles were loud, obnoxious, rowdy, obnoxious, dirty, obnoxious, full of fight (did I mention obnoxious?). Their counterparts were the Boston Beaneaters.

Unlike Baltimore, Boston had a tradition of winning teams, at least in the 1870s. The city could claim the last four National Association pennants and two of the first three National League pennants. They’d even won the only Player’s League championship.

After spending most of the 1880s outside the rarified air of pennant contenders, Boston got back in contention in 1889, then slid back in 1890 when the Player’s League raided them. One significant change occured in 1890, they brought in Frank Selee to manage the team. Selee was a minor league manager who had been incredibly successful and was brought on board to revamp the team. It worked.

The Beaneaters (as I’ve said before, what a terrible team nickname) were the antithesis of the Orioles. They played solid, fundamental, unspectacular baseball. They didn’t brawl, they didn’t fight. They hit well, they played good defense, and they pitched really, really well. Like Baltimore, they are credited with inventing the hit and run. I don’t know which, if either, actually did it. In 1891, ’92, and ’93 they won pennants and took the 1892 split season postseason series against Cleveland by winning five straight games after a first game tie. They slipped to third in 1894, fifth in ’95, and fourth again in ’96, then roared back to the top in both 1897 and 1898. They finished second in 1899 and finished the century in fourth.

Lots of players rotated through the Beaneaters during the final decade of the 19th Century, but the core of the team consisted of 10 or so players: first baseman Tommy Tucker, second baseman (and converted outfielder) Bobby Lowe, shortstop Herman Long, third baseman Billy Nash (who was replaced late in the run by Jimmy Collins), center fielder Hugh Duffy, the two left fielders Tommy McCarthy and Billy Hamilton, and pitchers Kid Nichols, Harry Staley, and Jake Stivetts. Of that crew Duffy, McCarthy, Hamilton, Collins, and Nichols (along with Selee) later made the Hall of Fame.

If John McGraw stood as the ultimate Oriole, the centerpiece of the Boston team was Kid Nichols. Along with Cy Young he is one of the greatest pitchers of the 19th Century. During the 1891-98 run he averaged 31 wins and 14 losses for a winning percentage of .688. He made the transition to 60’6″ and a mound easily, his record going from 35-16 to 34-14 at the change. In 1896, ’97, and ’98 he led the league in wins (you aren’t going to lead often if you have Cy Young in the league). For the century he was 310-167, a .650 winning percentage.

Like Baltimore, the Beaneaters didn’t do well in Temple Cup play, losing the only series (1897) they entered. As stated in earlier posts involving the Temple Cup, first place teams tended to take the games as exhibitons and figured that winning the regular season was enough. Boston was no exception.

These were the glory days of the National League team in Boston. The American League put a team in the city in 1901 and the Beaneaters waned about the same time. The new team, now the Red Sox, won and thus became the darlings of New England. The National League team faded in both the standings and in fans. By the 1950s it was in enough trouble it moved to Milwaukee. Although the new team in Milwaukee, and later in Atlanta, returned to glory, it was a sad end to a great franchise in Boston.

I hate to go out on a sad note. Late in their history, the Boston NL team, now called the Braves, called up a lefty pitcher named Warren Spahn. Put him together with Nichols and you get what is surely the best left-right combination produced by a single franchise in baseball history.