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. He enrolled in Cardinal Hayes High School as a freshman, but finished his secondary education at DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx.
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. Collins 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 ten 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 Yankee 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.
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.
Collins spent the next 14 years playing semipro ball and fast-pitch softball 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 Yankee 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. Collins then 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 Yankee 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 tenth 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.
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. Collins became a close friend with 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 (Rodriguez’) 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.
Baseball-Reference.com, statistics and history on Garvin Alston, Mike Bertotti, Benny Borgmann, Manny Ramirez, Francisco Rodriguez
Dede, Artie, Scout | Diamond Mines, National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. (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.