On February 24th, 2001 the San Diego sports community lost a legend. Phil Collier was gone at the age of 75, after a long battle with cancer. He will always hold a special place in the hearts of San Diegans, as he was pivotal in establishing San Diego as a sports city.
The soft-spoken Texan was a true gentleman, and was widely known for the excellent relationship he had with his peers and the players themselves. In fact it is commonly known that Sandy Koufax told Phil Collier of his intent to retire before anyone else. The two were very close and had a special relationship, something you definitely don’t see in this day and age of the game.
He began his career in Baytown, Texas as a sports writer and journalist. It was there where he first developed his passion for sports, and more specifically, baseball. He first started writing professionally for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram before joining the San Diego Union in 1953.
The city of San Diego was much smaller back then and Collier was to cover the PCL Padres who played at Lane Field and Westgate Park. He also provided coverage of the two closest major league teams, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Los Angeles Angels. It was then that Collier formed a relationship with Sandy Koufax which would lead to his biggest “scoop” of his respected career.
It’s not surprising that Koufax befriended Collier, as he was a very friendly and sincere man. There are tons of stories from players that state that Collier was nothing but respectful to them. He wrote what he felt, but he had no need to sling mud and provoke players in order to gain readers.
The man had an effect on many writers in the area. I asked the UT’s Nick Canepa to give me a little bit about Phil. He shared this with me. “It was the 1982 baseball season. I’m covering the Clippers. The Evening Tribune pulls me off to take a 10-day road trip with the Padres to Montreal, Philly, New York, and back to Montreal for the All-Star game. I travel to Montreal with Collier, who in-between many cocktails, regales me with stories for hours. He kind of takes this youngster under his wing.” The man was well-known in the sports industry, but never failed to take time to reach out to young members of the craft.
When MLB baseball was looking for new potential cities, Phil Collier, along with Jack Murphy, were key in the campaign to build the San Diego Stadium and attract a major league franchise to the city. After a few failed attempts, the city of San Diego was awarded a major league expansion team in 1969. Immediately Collier would become the Padres’ first beat writer, and he did that job well for the next 18 years. He would also serve as the official scorer for the San Diego Padres.
In 1991 he was awarded the J.G. Taylor Spink Award and inducted into the baseball Hall Of Fame under the writers section. A great honor for Collier and something he remained very humble about.
Tony Gwynn said this about the writer after his passing in 2001:
“Phil was an icon. When I first came up, he made things easier for me by being nice.”
That was a typical response from players, as Phil Collier was truly a class act. I as a child can remember being lucky enough to meet Phil Collier, Bob Chandler, Jerry Coleman, and Ted Leitner. It was the mid 80’s and I was a boy. All four were extremely nice, but Collier really stood out in my mind. My dad loved his work and to be honest, out of the four, I never had heard of him before.
Jerry Coleman was an icon already, while Leitner and Chandler were routinely visible on television covering the Padres. Phil Collier shook my father’s hand and had a nice conversation with him. He took his time to speak with me also, and asked if I played ball and what positions I played. He told me to drink my milk and take my vitamins. To look directly into a child’s eyes and speak to him like an equal had a profound effect on me. Even though in reality I did not know who he was, I understood my dad’s respect for him and that intrigued me.
We never met again, but I always had respect for him and frequently read his work. He, among others, were what inspired me to do what I do. It took me awhile to get to where I am, but I will always remember this man as he holds a special place in my heart even though we briefly met and it was 30 years ago. All sports personalities who started in this area should pay their respects to this man, as he deserves heavy praise for his work within America’s Finest City.