This article was written by Bill Nowlin
There was Rip Collins and there was Ripper Collins. Rip Collins–the subject of this biography–was a right-handed American League pitcher who won 108 games over 11 years in the majors from 1920 through 1931. Ripper Collins was a first baseman and right fielder (and three-time All-Star) who played for nine years in the National League, from 1931 through 1941, overlapping Rip for one year. Ripper was born in Pennsylvania as James Anthony Collins and there is no known family connection between the two.
Rip was born as Harry Warren Collins, in Weatherford, Texas, on February 26, 1896.1 His father–also named Harry–was a cotton buyer at the time of the 1900 census. He and his wife Marie (Davidson) had one child at the time; he was known as Warren. The elder Harry was a native Texan, born of a father from Massachusetts and a mother from Ohio. Marie was a Kentuckian of two Kentucky parents.
We’re not sure what happened to young Harry’s parents. He moved to Austin at the age of four and by 1910, was living there with his aunt Florence Collins and the head of the household, C. I. Thompson from Ohio (no occupation listed). His schooling was in Austin–the Bickler School and then Austin High School.
Collins was listed a 5-foot-10 1/2, with a playing weight of 185 pounds, but added as much as 25 more pounds in the course of his career. He played ball in the sandlots, and in high school. At Texas A&M, where Collins had originally intended to become a veterinarian, he played football, basketball, track, and baseball, but withdrew after two years to join a National Guard Army unit and serve on the Mexican border. “He served as a corporal with the troops on the border before and after the affair with Mexico, and was nicked by bullets four times,” explained a nationally-syndicated story in 1920. “He carries in his trunk a .44 gun and the ranger badge.”2
As a kicker in football, Collins was exceptional. In a 1915 game in Dallas against the Haskell Indians, he reportedly punted a ball 92 yards, and in a game against Ole Miss, he punted from behind his own goal posts (the goal posts were precisely 100 yards apart in those days) and the ball hit the crossbar of the other goal post on the fly.3
Collins returned to the Aggies in 1916, but then enlisted in the Army itself and served as a captain in the infantry until 1918. He was not shipped overseas but remained in the United States as a bayonet instructor.4 In the meantime, Collins married–in September 1917–Letty Parmele.
His debut in Organized Baseball was with Dallas in 1915, and Collins is listed with the same team in 1916, 1917, and 1919, but he refused to report until 1919, busy as he was with the National Guard and the Army and getting married. When he was discharged, he said, “All I had was hat and wife so I had to get to work.”5
When Collins finally went to work pitching for the Dallas Steers in 1919, he threw 227 innings in 41 games, and was 11-12 with a 2.34 earned run average. That December, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that the New York Yankees had purchased his contract.6 Scout Bob Connery brought him to spring training in 1920 and Collins made the team.7 The newspapers of the day enjoyed welcoming “the Texas cowboy” and “the two-gun man from Texas.”8
Collins had hurt his thumb working with a cement mixer in the offseason, and only worked 9 1/3 innings by the start of June. Two of his first three wins were shutouts; including a one-hitter of the Red Sox on June 26. Collins was 14-8 (3.22) for the third-place team, fourth in the team in wins and slightly better than team average for ERA. In the offseason, he resumed work as a Texas Ranger. Photographs of him in his Ranger uniform ran in papers across the country.9
In 1921, he was last to sign, after a winter of hunting (and was said to be “on the water wagon”–an acknowledgement of the day that he had perhaps been drinking too much of other things).10 He became part of the first Yankees team to win a pennant, and again was fourth in the team in wins (11-5) but with a distinctly worse 5.44 ERA. His one and only appearance in postseason play came in Game Three of the 1921 World Series against the Giants. After the Yankees had batted in the top of the seventh, the score stood tied, 4-4. Jack Quinn was hit hard by the Giants in the bottom of the seventh, never getting anyone out while being hit for a single, double, walk, double, and single. It was now 8-4 and manager Miller Huggins called in Collins. He gave up three consecutive singles, a sacrifice fly, a walk, and a bases-clearing triple. The score was now 12-4, and the game effectively over. Two outs were recorded on Collins’ watch–the sac fly and an inherited baserunner thrown out trying to steal. He was charged with four earned runs in the two-thirds of an inning. The Giants ultimately won the best-of-nine World Series, five games to three.
Collins later blamed his sub-par 1921 season on malaria he had contracted in Shreveport during spring training, which took him most of the season to fully shake.11
Collins enjoyed his time playing in New York–in fact, he enjoyed it a little too much. “I hit all the high places in New York,” he said. “The lights weren’t quite bright enough for me, so I made them lighter. Many a morning I rolled home about 5 AM. I didn’t realize it at the time, but Miller Huggins gave me more consideration than I deserved.” Alcohol wasn’t new to him. “When I was six years old, I could drain off a goblet of beer and smack my lips. Corn whiskey later took the place of beer.” And his drinking led to his nickname, he confessed: “I don’t particularly feel proud of the nickname Rip. There was a brand of whiskey fairly popular in my neck of the woods before Prohibition called Ripa Whiskey. Well, I could handle it pretty well, so you can draw your own conclusions.”12 He had the nickname before hitting New York.13
On December 20, Collins was part of a major trade. The Yankees sent him, Roger Peckinpaugh, Bill Piercy, Jack Quinn, and also $100,000 to the Boston Red Sox for Bullet Joe Bush, Sad Sam Jones, and Everett Scott. The Boston Herald was far from overwhelmed, writing of Collins that in 1920 he had “looked like a genuine find for a while. However, the ‘two-gun’ man could not or would not keep the pace and his work in the box has been generally disappointing.”14
“Don’t blame Huggins,” Collins said later. “No one to blame but Old Rip Collins. You must stay in condition to pitch winning ball in the major leagues and Rip Collins failed to do that. Huggins gave me every chance and I was too young and thoughtless to take advantage of my opportunities. I wish I had that season of 1920 to live over.”15
Collins worked for the Red Sox for one year. Manager Hugh Duffy was “banking heavily on both Collins and Piercy…becoming first-string men and stars at that.”16 So was Sox owner Harry Frazee, who was wildly optimistic, talking about Boston having a shot at the pennant: “I think that Rip Collins, whom we recently obtained from the Yankees, will develop into one of the most effective pitchers in the league.” Frazee added that Duffy expected Collins to win 30 games.17
While no star, he still came through relatively well. Pitching for a Red Sox team which finished in last place, Collins complied a 14-11 record with a 3.76 ERA. He led the staff in wins, and was the only pitcher on the team with a winning record.
As early as July 1922, Detroit’s player-manager Ty Cobb said he wanted Collins and would be glad to trade Howard Ehmke to get him.18 But no deal happened then. Collins beat Detroit four times during the season. Then on October 30, Tigers owner Frank Navin struck a deal with Boston’s Frazee, sending Ehmke, Danny Clark, Babe Herman, Carl Holling, and $25,000 to the Red Sox for Collins and Del Pratt.
Collins pitched the next five seasons for the Tigers, 1923 through 1927. Over the five years, he was 44-40 with a combined 3.94 ERA. He seemed to alternate not-very-good years (the odd-numbered seasons) with good ones.
Expectations were high in 1923; the Washington Post saw Collins in January as “one of the best young pitchers in the game,” observing that “this lad won something like half a dozen straight games for the miserable Red Sox last fall, and that is quite an accomplishment.”19 But Collins lost his first six decisions, then shut out the White Sox, and had a 3-7 record through June. At times his problem was run support. The first loss was 1-0 one in 10 innings, and two others were games in which the Tigers only scored one run per game. At times Collins was too wild both on the field and off. By midseason he led the American League in hit batsmen and wild pitches, and was also fined by Cobb for breaking team training rules.20 Collins developed arm problems after his June 30 start against the Browns, and threw only one more inning in late July (in which he gave up two runs). The Sporting News on September 13 reported that “a tumorous growth developed in the elbow of his pitching arm recently as the result of a split cartilage,” and that Collins had been “operated on with satisfactory results.”21
Collins was healthy again in 1924. The Tigers still didn’t always provide him with enough offense. Late that season, the Boston Globe averred that Collins was “sometimes called the unluckiest pitcher in the American League.”22 But his ERA was 3.21 in 1924, compared to 4.87 in 1923. His won/loss record improved as well: 14-7.
Both in 1925 and 1927, his ERA was above 4.60, while in 1926, it was 2.73 (his 8-8 record that year may well have reflected some bad luck, but the Globe surely hadn’t been looking two years in the future).
Before the 1925 season, Cobb said he expected Collins to have the best year of his career. It was one of his off-years: 6-11, 4.60. That August, a story came out that Mrs. Wilma Place of Detroit thought she had been married to Collins for three years, only to find out she had not been. Wilma was married in Boston in 1922 and became Mrs. Warren Collins. They moved to Detroit, and her husband told her he needed to leave the Red Sox and change his name to Charles Place, an alias to protect him against a fan who was angry because he’d thrown a bat at the man. Then Charles disappeared in January, leaving behind Charles Jr. as well, but writing Wilma from time to time that he hadn’t been able to hook on with another team. She had never followed baseball, so she had no idea that the real Warren Collins had been traded to Detroit and was playing right there in the city.23
Collins was 13-7 in his final (1927) season with the Tigers, but with a 4.69 ERA. The Tigers placed him on waivers in the late autumn with the goal of moving him back to the minor leagues. On January 31, 1928, he was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs for pitcher Vic Sorrell. He pitched for Toronto in 1928, and quite well, winning his first eight games but then evening out; he finished 17-9, with a 3.38 ERA. His best day was August 29 when he pitched both halves of a doubleheader, beating the visiting Reading Keys, 2-0 and 4-1, and allowing just three hits over the two games.24
In September, after the International League season was over, Collins was sold to the St. Louis Browns, to report in the spring of 1929.
He was 11-6 in his first of three seasons for the Browns, with a 4.00 earned run average. It was the best winning percentage on the Browns’ staff. The other (Ripper) Collins was beginning to slug his way through the International League.
After a 9-7 (4.35) season in 1930, and with the Depression being to take hold, his pay was cut $2,500, and he held out but finally agreed to come back for one more year.25 He had just a 5-5 season, though with an improved 3.79 ERA. It was his last year in the majors.
He was a holdout again in 1932 but then contracted “an illness similar to Malta fever” and decided not to play, accepting an appointment to the Texas Rangers for the year.26 He came off the voluntarily retired list and was reinstated for 1933, but couldn’t make the cut and was released by the Browns in April.
Later that year, on July 23, Collins signed with the Fort Worth Cats (Texas League); he got into ten games, winning one and losing one. That was his last foray into pro ball.
Collins apparently “often had said that he hated the game and played it only because he liked to fish and hunt in the winter in his native Texas.” He said of himself, “I was always homesick for the wild country and the call of the coyotes. I was born a hundred years too late. I should have been a pioneer.”27 He did, nonetheless, answer the question posed to him on his Hall of Fame questionnaire (“If you had it all to do over, would you play professional baseball?”) with a clear “Yes.”
At one point, he said, “I should have been an outfielder. All they have to do is go out there and look around, catch a ball, maybe, come in to hit and then walk out again. Who gets all the money in baseball? The outfielders. When a pitcher signs a new contract, the owner says, ‘Well, you lost ten games last year, so we’re going to cut your salary a thousand.’ The pitcher says, ‘I wouldn’t have lost those games if the outfielders had been on the job.’ The owner replies, ‘That’s too bad’–and cuts your salary. The outfielder increases his average a couple of points and the owner says, ‘You’ve had a great year. I’m going to give you a thousand raise.’ And you think outfielders are not smart, eh?”28
At the time of the 1940 census he and Letty were living in Austin with their three children–James, 18, Charlotte, 17, and Henry W. Jr., 12. He had rejoined the Texas Rangers in 1937 and was listed in the census as a peace officer with the state ranger service. In January 1941, he became sheriff of Travis County. Austin is the county seat of Travis County. The “two-gun Texan” amassed quite a collection of guns over the years and even when he was still playing was said to have more than 148 of them, as well as being something of an expert of forensic ballistics.29
On May 27, 1968, Collins died in Bryan, Texas, a week after suffering a cerebrovascular thrombosis–a stroke.
In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Collins’s player file from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, and the SABR Minor Leagues Database, accessed online at Baseball-Reference.com.
1 Different documents in his Hall of Fame player file also indicate birth years of 1895 and 1897.
2 Tucson Daily Citizen, April 1, 1920. For his veterinary aspirations, see Baton Rouge’s State Times Advocate, February 11, 1930.
3 Unattributed clipping located in Collins’s Hall of Fame player file.
5 United Press telegram April 4, 1944 in Collins’s Hall of Fame player file.
6 Fort Worth Star-Telegram, December 12, 1919.
7 A nationally-syndicated story (e.g., Charlotte Observer) named Connery on September 9, 1920.
8 New York Times, April 13, 1920 and July 12, 1921.
9 Greensboro Record, May 19, 1921.
10 Washington Post, March 17, 1921.
11 Boston Herald, March 8, 1922.
12 The Sporting News, June 15, 1968.
13 See, for instance, the Dallas Morning News, July 7, 1919.
14 Boston Herald, December 21, 1921. The wording of the New York Times story of the same day was almost identical.
15 Hartford Courant, December 22, 1929.
16 Boston Globe, February 12, 1922.
17 New York Times, April 1, 1922.
18 Chicago Tribune, July 15, 1922.
19 Washington Post, January 28, 1923.
20 The Sporting News, May 31, 1923; The Sporting News, July 12, 1923.
21 The Sporting News, September 13, 1923.
22 Boston Globe, September 16, 1924.
23 Boston Globe and Boston Herald, August 4, 1925.
24 Washington Post, August 30, 1928.
25 Boston Globe, April 11, 1931.
26 Chicago Tribune, March 30, 1932.
27 The Sporting News, June 15, 1968.
29 Hartford Courant, December 22, 1929.