The Buffalo News polled sports staffers as to the top 10 male and female athletes from Western New York. Here’s No. 7 among men:
Name: Jimmy Collins.
High school: St. Joseph Collegiate Institute.
Born: Jan. 18, 1870, in Niagara Falls.
Died: March 6, 1943, age 73.
Career overview: Collins was considered the greatest third baseman ever when he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1945. He revolutionized third-base play when he hit the National League with the Boston Beaneaters in 1895. Before Collins, third basemen hugged the bag, and shortstops fielded all bunts, even those down the foul line. Collins was the first to play off the bag, often at the edge of the infield grass. He charged bunts and scooped them bare-handed to throw out runners. His 2,372 putouts still rank second all-time among third basemen, behind only Brooks Robinson. A 5-foot-9, 160-pounder, Collins’ career batting average was .294. His best year at the plate was 1897, when he batted .346 for Boston. He led the NL in home runs in 1898 with 15. He jumped to the American League in 1901 and served six years as player-manager of the Boston Americans (who became the Red Sox). He managed Boston to the first-ever World Series title in 1903.
Memorable moment I: Collins’ debut at third base was legendary. He had started his first big-league season in the outfield for Boston, but then was loaned to Louisville (one of 12 NL teams at the time) for the bulk of the season. He switched to third base for the second game of a doubleheader at defending champion Baltimore on July 4, 1895. Louisville third baseman Walter Preston had made four errors in the opener. According to The Buffalo Evening News, Collins threw out four bunters in a row, including Hall-of-Famers Wee Willie Keeler, Hughie Jennings and John McGraw, to discourage the Orioles from bunting.
Memorable moment II: Collins was the toast of Buffalo in 1903 after leading Boston from a 3-1 deficit to a 5-3 victory in the best-of-nine World Series. A big crowd and brass band met him at the train depot and paraded him to the Iroquois Hotel.
“It was a great homecoming,” Collins told The Buffalo Evening News. “The party lasted that night, through the next day and evening. It was two days before I got back to my place near Hertel Avenue.”
All-timer: Legendary Connie Mack, who managed in the major leagues for 53 seasons, picked his all-time team upon retiring in 1950. He named Collins the greatest third baseman ever. Said Mack: “Jimmy was slick and fast. This driving infielder invented the present-day style of third-base play. He had a great knack for coming up with the ball between hops. He also was a great base-runner and a timely hitter.”
Retirement: Collins spent his last two big-league years with the Athletics, then played three minor-league seasons before retiring in 1912. He spent the rest of his life in Buffalo. “I gave baseball everything I had,” he said. “When I quit, I was like a guy who died with his boots on. My arches had broken down, my legs ached, I had charley horses and I could hardly lift my right arm.”
A Wake to Remember: The Boston-based Celtic punk band the Dropkick Murphys in 2013 recorded the song “Jimmy Collins’ Wake,” which tells of the raucous farewell for the third-sacker. Several of Collins’ former teammates from Boston made the trip to Buffalo for the wake. After a few drinks, they took Collins’ body out of the casket so he could be among his story-telling buddies. They sat him in a chair in his parlor, along with a silver trophy he had received from Boston fan and bar owner “Nuf Ced” McGreevy after the World Series win.