SABR

Brian Collins

This article was written by Michael Harrison.

Brian Collins: Pictured at right with John O'Dell of the Baseball Hall of Fame.Brian Collins: Pictured at right with John O'Dell of the Baseball Hall of Fame.Descended from Irish immigrant grandparents, Brian Michael Collins, a longtime major-league scout, was born on March 1, 1943, and raised in the Bronx, New York. In his own words, “I was kind of a street guy from the Bronx. I grew up on Bainbridge Avenue right near Montefiore Hospital and Gun Hill Road.” Lacking self-confidence at an early age, Brian did not play organized sports during his formative years. He did not try out for junior-high baseball or play organized baseball until he was 15 years old. Enrolled in Cardinal Hayes High School as a freshman, Collins only played freshman basketball at the school, and was highly regarded by his coach, Brother James, for his pure shooting skills. Brian then transferred to DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, where he would finish his secondary education. While at the public school, Brian became close friends with Calvin Jung, who would become a well-known actor in such movies such as Robocop and Lethal Weapon 4.

At the age of 15 the youngster was invited by a friend to watch the New York Braves, a Bronx amateur baseball team, at a team practice. The Braves coach was Burt Beagle, a sports advocate for Bronx youth. Beagle invited Collins to shag some balls and, impressed with his ability, invited him to join the Braves. Collins that summer ended up playing 118 games in seven leagues (the Braves won five championships) as the team’s center fielder. He continued to play for the team the next two seasons. In 1960, at the age of 17, Collins got a letter from the Yankees asking him to come to Yankee Stadium for a closed tryout. Recalling the event and its aftermath, Collins said, “There were 10 of us there. We got tested for running speed, arm strength, and bat speed. I hit a shot into the visitors’ bullpen in left field. This was the old Yankee Stadium, so that was pretty far. After the tryout I went back to the Braves and started playing shortstop. During one Braves game a week later, the manager pulled me out of shortstop and told me to go back to center field. While I was playing, I saw two men sitting in the stands and recognized one of them as the Yankee scout who watched me a few days before. That man was Harry Hesse (who later signed catcher Thurman Munson). The other man was Arthur Dede (who later signed Joe Pepitone). When the game was over, my coach asked me if I knew who those guys were.”

The Yankees scouts told Beagle they believed Collins could run, field, and throw better than most major-league outfielders playing at the time. St. Louis Cardinals scouts Joe Petrocine and Benny Borgmann also watched Collins play, and graded him and Brooklyn native Rico Petrocelli (Boston Red Sox) as having the same abilities and skill levels. Petrosine offered a $2,000 contract that would have sent Brian to a Class D minor-league team for one year; Brian’s father rejected the offer, insisting that he finish high school before signing any contracts.

Brian’s passion for playing baseball grew so much that he would go with friends to nearby Frankie Frisch Field on Webster Avenue in the Bronx and watch any games being played there. Metro-North railroad tracks ran adjacent to the field. Collins, without hesitation, would jump the third rail and retrieve any foul balls hit out of the park; he and his friends then had plenty of practice balls, without the added cost.

While at DeWitt Clinton High School, Brian had the opportunity to display his running talent by doing occasional runs with Olympian Gordon McKenzie. Impressed with Collin’s ability, McKenzie offered to sponsor the young runner as a member of the New York Pioneer Club. McKenzie felt Collins would make an outstanding quarter-miler. Collins never accepted the offer. McKenzie, an AAU cross-country champion in 1954, was a member of the 1960 US Olympic Marathon team.

Collins enjoyed a reputation as an extremely fast runner, but his fortunes took a turn for the worse when he started using leg weights. He made the mistake of overusing the five-pound weights, wearing them eight hours a day. He eventually suffered muscle spasms and injuries that slowed him down. A chiropractor diagnosed two herniated discs and muscle tears in his legs and lower back from the overuse of weights. Collins never fully recovered, although he did play baseball at DeWitt Clinton High School in his senior year. Word got around to all scouts that he had a bad back; having this injury at the age of 18 discouraged the scouts from following Collins during his senior season. His potential major-league career was ruined before he graduated from high school. The two herniated discs from the back injury always haunted Collins; reflecting on his teenage years, he said he regretted never knowing how far he could have advanced in professional baseball.

Collins got a job after high school and settled down, marrying his childhood sweetheart, Luise Reinhardt. (They had three children and, as of 2013, nine grandchildren.) Collins worked several years as a corrections officer and in the real-estate business. In 1967, restless in his occupation as a real-estate manager, he decided to be involved with baseball again, in any capacity. Desiring employment with a major-league club, Collins wrote to all the teams looking for work as a scout. He got a reply from a Philadelphia Phillies bird-dog scout, Joe LaBate, and after interviews with LaBate and Phillies management, Collins was signed as a bird-dog scout, one who recommends players to a full-time scout. He worked for the Phillies for a year. His efforts were not always rewarded; upper management ignored his recommendation to sign future Boston Red Sox star Ben Oglivie during that time.

Collins spent the next 14 years playing semipro ball and fast-pitch softball. He became a member of the highly successful New Rochelle (New York) Robins before returning to the scouting business. Beginning in 1981, he worked for 25 years as a part-time scout for the Yankees, Colorado Rockies, Chicago White Sox, and Minnesota Twins. He retired in 2006. In the Yankees organization, Collins initially worked with Al Cuccinello (formerly a player with the New York Giants) and with Joe DiCarlo, covering New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. DiCarlo worked for 16 years with the Yankees, signing in 1984 Al Leiter, who pitched in the major leagues for 19 seasons. During this time, the Yankees did not heed Collins’s recommendation to sign Bronx native and future Pittsburgh Pirates star Bobby Bonilla. In an unusual set of circumstances, Collins (still active as a player) was able to sign a fellow teammate from the Robins, Dan Brodsky. He also served under Yankees general manager Murray Cook and Doug Melvin, director of scouting. In 1985 Yankees owner George Steinbrenner ordered all part-time scouts let go, including Tom Greenwade, who had signed Mickey Mantle and Bobby Murcer. Upset, Collins viewed the owner’s decision as a destructive one for the future of the Yankees organization.

In the early 1990s, Collins joined the Colorado Rockies, who were becoming an expansion team in the National League. He recommended Florida International University pitching prospect Garvin Alston for the team, and the Rockies drafted Alston in the 10th round of the 1992 amateur draft. Alston reached the majors with the Rockies in 1996, but was injured and did not play in the majors after that year.

In 1996 Collins was inducted into the American Stickball League Hall of Fame. He averaged 20.2 strikeouts per game as a pitcher and maintained a .367 batting average. He had joined the league during the mid-1980s following his release from the Yankees.

Collins next joined the Chicago White Sox organization, urging the club to sign left-handed pitcher Mike Bertotti from Iona College. Despite Bertotti’s 2-6 college record and 6.50 ERA, Collins felt the youngster had potential in professional baseball. The White Sox drafted Bertotti in the 31st round of the 1991 amateur draft, and he played for the team for three seasons, 1995-1997.

Collins then worked under the direction of Joe McIlvaine, assistant general manager of the Minnesota Twins, in 1998. He became a close friend of Herb Stein, a longtime scout for the Washington Senators/Minnesota Twins franchise, who acted as a mentor to part-timer Collins.

Collins donated a poem, scouting reports, and a stopwatch to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, in Cooperstown, New York.

The poem is entitled “Reflections of a Scout”:

A baseball scout is many things to many people.
He is a man probably overworked and underpaid,
Whose face is weather-beaten,

from years of exposure to the elements.
Who in the course of a season,

will see thousands of players.
Appreciated by some, misunderstood by others,

but above all, dedicated to the game of baseball.
A man who will decide who can play,

And who cannot play.
If he is wrong, he will hear about it.

But, if he is right, he’s just doing his job.
Faceless men doing their job.

But let us all remember,

These men are the backbone of the game

We call our national pastime, baseball.

Brian Collins, Scout

Two scouting reports by Collins are on display or listed in the Hall of Fame. One, dated April 18, 1991, is on Manny Ramirez, a New York City high-school player who eventually played for the Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago White Sox, and Tampa Bay Rays. Of Ramirez, Collins wrote, “Best amateur I’ve ever scouted. If he stays healthy, will hit between 4 to 5 hundred homers in the M.L.”

Another report, dated April 12, 1990, is on a Chicago White Sox prospect, Francisco “Frankie” “K-Rod” Rodriguez. Collins observed, “Outstanding arm, wiry build, but will fill out. A good pitching coach and his willingness to work should produce major league player. It’s up to him.” Drafted in 1990 by Boston in the second round, Rodriguez eventually pitched in the majors for the Red Sox, Twins, Mariners, and Reds, from 1995 to 2001.

Commenting on the business of evaluating ballplayers, Collins said, “Scouting is like prospecting a rare gold nugget.” He said part-time scouts were necessary for “fleshing out” potential players, so that full-time scouts could fully evaluate them.

 

Sources

Dede, Artie. Scout | Diamond Mines, National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. (http://scouts.baseballhall.org/scout?s-sabr-id=b682170c).

Collins, Brian, Scout | Diamond Mines. National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, http://scouts.baseballhall.org/scout?s-sabr-id=1abb0e36.

Feinsand, Mark. “Baseball Loses an Unsung Hero,” New York Daily News, January 22, 2009 (http://nydailynews.com/blogs/yankees/2009/01/baseball-loses-an-unsung-le...).

Hesse, Harry, Scout | Diamond Mines. National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Stein, Herb, Scout | Diamond Mines. National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum (http://scouts.baseballhall.org/scout?s-sabr-id=efdfcd67).

Personal interview with Brian Collins at On the Waterfront Restaurant, personal/video, May 23, 2012.

Telephone interview with Brian Collins, August 23, 2013.

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