Photos: Jimmy Collins T206 front and back, from my collection
I wouldn't have known the importance Jimmy Collins had on the Boston and Providence teams if I hadn't looked him up. And I wouldn't have appreciated his HOF stats--which are not impressive just by looking at them online, especially baseball-reference's JAWS scores for him. I look up every player's stats when I do a blog entry on them, and I always use baseball-reference.com. I also sometimes look up the player on Wikipedia if the stats show me something that seems interesting, suspicious, etc. about that player. Since I mention it, you can look at Jimmy Collins' stats here and you can read about him on his Wikipedia page here.
Collins is on the card with the Minneapolis Millers, which--like Joe Kelley--I assumed meant he was playing in the minors at the time, waiting to be called up. (This is considered his RC.) But I forgot that the leagues then weren't like the leagues now. In short, there were no minor leagues. A player played for a team and the owners and managers (no GMs then, either) would trade them or release them. So a major league player could be traded to Minneapolis, which was in the American Association (a major league for a very short time in the Victorian Era). It was a good, quality league by 1909, though not as good as the majors. A comparison today would be that it was quality-wise at least as good as AAA, and would sometimes be in between AAA and the Majors.
Good leagues then--defined as leagues that had decent quality of play, and where the players and managers could make a decent living, even if they never left--included the Majors, the AA, the Pacific Coast League (notorious for tiny ballparks and big, affluent crowds, especially in California), the Eastern League (of which Providence, RI was a member), the Western League and the Southern League. Lots of T205s refer to the Triple-I League, which were the states of Illinois, Iowa and Indiana. That was also apparently a helluva league. The pay and play in these leagues would vary, with the Majors being at the top in quality, but not always in pay. (The Texas League and the Southern Leagues were often not of the best quality of play. Often, players having a good year would hit 60+ homers and drive in over 150 like clockwork, but then struggle when they advanced to a better league, with better quality players.) In fact, Joe Kelley, by 1907, had played and managed in the majors for about 15 years. But although he was offered Major League jobs, he left the majors and played/managed in Toronto, in the Eastern League, in 1907. He returned to the Majors with the Boston Doves of the National League, but returned to Toronto for 1909 and 1910. Why? More money, he said. The Eastern League was a decent league, and Toronto drew well and played well, so it paid well. So Joe Kelley's T206 is of him with the Toronto Maple Leafs (he's got a bat in his hands, like he's ready to swing or bunt, but he's also smiling, so it's obviously a pose, and he only managed that year anyway), and I assumed without looking it up that he was in the minors, waiting to get called up. Turns out, he was at the tail end of his managerial career, and he'd been done playing for awhile. (It's still his RC.)
Which brings us back to Jimmy Collins. He wasn't near the quality player Joe Kelley was, in roughly the same time span. Collins started playing in 1895 and was a much better defensive player than he was with the bat. (Then and now, you can make a good career in baseball in the Majors if you're great with the glove and at least a bit decent with the bat.) Collins became better than just a little decent with the bat. After averaging 6 homers a year with maybe 30-50 RBIs, and okay averages, he suddenly had 2 straight years of 132 and 111 RBIs and .346 and .328 averages, in 1897 and 1898. He had 3 more straight years of 90+ RBIs without breaking 100. Good numbers, but really good hitters hit for crazy high averages in the 1890s, with tons of hits and RBIs. Wee Willie Keeler and Billy Hamilton, for example, did that every year, and Joe Kelley had 5 straight years of crazy Runs Scored and RBI totals, while averaging about .360 for those 5 years. (There was an offensive explosion in the mid-1890s that nobody's ever explained to me. There was no expansion, and players for the first time almost universally wore gloves in the field, which you would think would make run totals go down, not explode.)
Anyway, Jimmy Collins never led the league in much (homers in 1898, with 15 and total bases that year, plus ABs and PAs another year, but that's it) and he retired with 1,999 hits, because nobody cared about totals and stats as much then (Sam Rice retired in the 20s with 2,987 hits, for example) and because there was no Hall of Fame to continue playing for. Collins's career stats are not impressive when you look at them on the page; he finished with just over 1,000 runs scored and just under 1,000 RBIs. These are essentially Al Oliver numbers (though Oliver's career stats are superficially better because he played a lot longer, but he was terrible defensively).
So I was thinking that Collins was yet another Veterans Committee disaster pick for HOF until I read up about him. Turns out, while he was playing, he was regarded as the best third baseman, especially defensively. It was said that he "revolutionized the position," specifically by his ability to field bunts. (Fieldwork used to be so bad that players would frequently lay one down to get one base. The shortstops were considered the better athletes and they were usually in charge of fielding bunts, even ones that hugged the line.) Collins had such good instincts that he was amongst the first to play in on the grass to cut down on the bunts. His defensive play, plus his very good to good to adequate hitting, made him the first third baseman to be inducted into the HOF in 1945.
And that's what the numbers don't show. They're not impressive now. In fact, JAWS says he's just the 20th best third baseman. But that's now. Until 1945, he was the best third baseman in the majors. He held the record for most putouts, in a short career, until Brooks Robinson broke it in the 1970s--over 60 years after he retired. While active, he was written about and spoken about as the best third baseman. For some reason, the position remained somewhat stagnant until the 60s, and even now there aren't that many in the Hall compared to other positions. A quick look at the 19 third basemen in front of him, according to JAWS, shows me that only Home Run Baker (another HOFer) played in the same era as Collins. Everyone else, from George Brett to Eddie Matthews to Paul Molitor to Wade Boggs to Mike Schmidt to Chipper Jones (#6) and Adrian Beltre (very quietly #5 all-time)--as you can see, they're all post-1950.
So the numbers lie. You can't judge something just by the numbers, or by your limited understanding of the numbers, or of the era the numbers accumulated in. You have to look into the numbers and understand the time in which they were amassed. On their own, the numbers look like nothing. But in the context of their time, they make him an obvious HOF choice. In fact, I wonder who the HOF Committee thought should be represented at 3rd by their first few choices in the years after the Hall opened in 1933.
But wait, there's more. Jimmy Collins was the Boston Red Sox's first-ever manager, in 1901. The American League first became a league after 1900. Collins was also playing and managing the Boston Red Sox when it won its first-ever World Series in 1903, beating Honus Wagner and the Pirates 5-3 in a best of nine series. Collins also managed Boston to another first-place finish in 1904, but John McGraw and the New York Giants refused to play them in another series. After that, though, things went bad between Collins and Boston's owners, to the extent that he was suspended a few times, accused of quitting on the team--and he was managing them to a last-place finish. So the team president hires Chick Stahl to manage the team, while Collins stays on as a player, which must've been awkward as hell. Stahl was feeling a lot of pressure and depression, and committed suicide after the 1906 season ended. Boston let Cy Young manage in 1907 and traded Collins away.
By 1909 Jimmy Collins was managing the Minneapolis Millers (and playing; he had 152 hits and batted .273), which is where he was when the T206 was produced. So this is another manager card and not a player card. (The T206s don't list position or title, and there are no stats or writing on the back. This is unique, because the T205s, also produced between 1909-1911, have writing and stats, making them the preferred card for some. I like those backs, but I don't like the fronts, or the thicker gold borders that chip very easily.)
In 1910 and 1911 he managed the Providence Greys, of the Eastern League, who played in a park in Olneyville, just up 95 from here. (The Greys were the first World Series winning team in general, winning it in the 1880s when it was a Major League team. It folded, surprisingly, soon thereafter, reappearing in a few years as a minor league team.) He took over for Hugh Duffy, a HOF player from Cranston, RI, also just up the road from here. And within a couple of years after Collins retired after 1911 and moved back to Buffalo, the Greys had another HOFer on its roster--a pitcher named Babe Ruth.