Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 1,239Comments
This is the grave of Eddie Collins.
Born in 1887 in Millerton, New York, Collins grew up wealthy. This made him very different than most other professional baseball players of the day, back when it really was a working class game. He went to Columbia University and was going to be a lawyer, but he was just so good at baseball. He also wanted to make money on it. He tried to hide the fact that he was still a student at Columbia when he signed with the Philadelphia A’s in 1906 by using a pseudonym. It worked to the extent that he managed to get 18 at bats that season with the team. But then Columbia discovered he had been taking money to play semi-pro ball in upstate New York too and so disqualified him.
Collins didn’t need to play anymore at Columbia anyway. He was just about ready to go. He spent most of 1907 in the minors, getting another cup of coffee in Philadelphia, but then was in the majors for good in 1908. He was pretty young still and it took him a couple of years to really become an excellent player, but in 1909, he jumped to the top of the class. He was a superior defensive second basemen who could hit for a very high average, take a few walks, and score a lot of runs. This was the deadball era, so he hardly ever homered–a total of 47 in a 25 year career. But don’t let that understate how dominant he was at this time. According to Baseball Reference’s WAR stat, his numbers beginning in 1909 were 9.7, 10.5, 6.6, 8.8, 9.0, 9.1, 9.4, and 7.0. Effectively this means he was an MVP quality player every year through 1916. That’s MVP quality each year for damn near a decade. Very few players have had runs of this greatness.
Collins was an absolute master of the stolen base. He’s the only person to steal six bases in a game and he did it twice in the same season. He led the league in runs each year between 1912 and 1914. He was also the MVP in 1914. For the time, Collins was well-paid, but of course no one was really that well paid. He knew his value too. In the early 1910s, the Federal League threatened to pay players more to join its upstart challenge to Major League Baseball. In response, the A’s offered Collins a five-year contract, which no one had ever received before. But he declined it, wanting more power over his own career. The response was that the A’s traded the reigning MVP after the 1914 season, moving him to the White Sox. In the next season, Chicago made him the third highest paid player in the game, with a whopping $15,000 salary.
Collins proceeded to be a really good player for Chicago all the way through the 1926 season, though with naturally diminishing returns as he aged. He still had three top-five MVP seasons for the Sox between 1922 and 1924 and led the league in stolen bases two of those years. As the dead ball era was ending, his style of play was somewhat out of fashion, but he remained a high average/low power hitter for an exceptionally long time. He ended up going back to the A’s in 1927 for the end of his career. All the way to 1929 and 1930, he was getting a few major league at bats.
Now, Collins was on the Black Sox team. People have long debated the extent to which he knew about throwing the series. He didn’t have a good series, though that’s not particularly dispositive. He did get away scot free on it, despite lingering suspicions. He also remained a White Sox hero and became player-manager in 1924, which he continued with through the 1926 season. He also coached with the A’s during that 1927-30 stint.
The A’s won the World Series in 1930 and for Collins, that was the perfect time to retire. They immediately hired him as a full time coach. Then in 1932, the Red Sox brought him into the front office as their general manager. This was a terrible team by that time and his job was to rebuild this lost franchise. He did a pretty good job generally. He stayed in the job for fifteen years and the team was competitive for most of them after the first couple. They even won the pennant in 1946 before losing the Series. No, they mostly couldn’t surpass the Yankees but they were still a successful team by most measures. He signed Bobby Doerr and Ted Williams on a single west coast scouting trip. During these years, Collins also was selected for the Hall of Fame, being inducted in 1939.
Collins was also a total racist. The Red Sox were getting pressure to try out Black players so they brought in Jackie Robinson and a few others for a total sham of a tryout to get the pressure off their backs. But he and his boss Tom Yawkey were never actually going to do this. Had he signed Robinson, Collins would be seen as something of a hero today. Instead, Boston recently renamed the street it had named after him outside Fenway Park.
Collins retired from the Red Sox in 1947. His heart was giving out. He died of heart failure in 1951, at the age of 63.
Eddie Collins is buried in Linwood Cemetery, Weston, Massachusetts.
According to Baseball Reference’s JAWS stat, Collins is the 2nd greatest second basemen of all time. If you would like this series to visit other second basemen, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Rogers Hornsby, who is first, is in Hornsby Bend, Texas, which was his ranch just outside of Austin, and Napoleon Lajoie, who is third, is in Daytona Beach, Florida. Previous posts in this series are archived here.