Collins, Edward Trowbridge ("Eddie")
COLLINS, Edward Trowbridge ("Eddie")
(b. 2 May 1887 in Millerton, New York; d. 25 March 1951 in Boston, Massachusetts), Baseball Hall of Fame second baseman who played a remarkable twenty-five seasons; one of the best fielding second basemen and one of the greatest offensive players ever.
Collins was the only child of John Rossman Collins, a railroad freight agent, and his second wife, Mary Meade Trowbridge Collins. Collins graduated from the Irving School, a preparatory school in Tarrytown, New York, in 1903. He entered Columbia University when he was sixteen years old, and at that young age he became quarterback of the school's football team and earned a place on the baseball team. Collins was a very good quarterback, but he was an amazing baseball player. After his junior year he played in six games for the Philadelphia Athletics. He called himself Sullivan while playing for the Athletics to disguise the fact that he had played for money, but Columbia's administration found out and declared him ineligible to play on the school's baseball team because he had lost his amateur standing. Although a major league baseball career beckoned, Collins stayed at Columbia for his senior year, coaching the baseball team and earning his B.A. in 1907. He was one of the most intelligent men ever to play in the major leagues and often coached while serving as a ballplayer.
Collins was starting at second base for manager Connie Mack's Athletics by 1908. Beginning in 1909, he put together a string of eight straight seasons batting over .300. After two subpar seasons, he had another string of ten straight seasons, from 1919 to 1928, batting over .300. Collins was instrumental in the Athletics American League championships of 1910, 1911, 1913, and 1914, and was a star in each World Series, helping his team to Series victories in 1910, 1911, and 1914. These were the days of the "dead ball," when teams struggled to just score runs one at a time. Collins carried a big fat bat that he choked up on, and he was a line-drive hitter who sprayed hits to all fields. At five feet, nine inches tall, Collins was relatively small for a major leaguer; he used his small size to his advantage by drawing bases on balls, and was often among league leaders in this category.
But Collins's glory on offense was his base running. Getting on base via base hits or bases on balls made Collins a constant irritation to opposing defenses because he was a master at stealing bases and at taking extra-base hits. His blazing speed remained with him throughout his career. He not only led the league in stolen bases with 81 in 1910, but led the league again in 1919, 1923, and 1924.
Collins was part of the Athletics' "$100,000 Infield," with "Stuffy" McInnis at first base, "Home Run" Frank Baker at third, and Jack Barry at shortstop. The quartet was a wonder to watch, making finely timed, perfectly coordinated, balletic moves. As a group, they were perhaps the finest fielding infield that ever played. Collins attributed much of their excellent working relationship to their close friendship off the field, and indeed they all remained friends for life.
Connie Mack introduced Collins to Mabel Harriet Doane, who became his wife on 3 November 1910. They had two sons. In February 1945, two years after Mabel's death, Collins married Emily Jane Mann Hall.
Collins may have been the best fielding second baseman ever. His range was unsurpassed; he would race to the left field side of second base and to foul ground beyond first base to make catches or to scoop up ground balls. As he aged, his arm may have weakened to about average for a major league second baseman, but his marvelous ranginess and gymnast-like physical coordination remained with him until the end of his career.
The worst period of his career, perhaps of his life, came after he was traded to the Chicago White Sox. He had threatened to jump to the upstart Federal League if Connie Mack did not give him a raise, instead, unable to afford to pay Collins and other stars on the Athletics, Mack traded them away. Collins initially played well for the White Sox, but he had a couple of mediocre years at the plate in 1917 and 1918, and then a rousing year in 1919.
Collins would later say that the 1919 White Sox was the best team he ever played for, in spite of the incessant bickering and hostility among the players. It was also his worst team. Eight players on the White Sox conspired with gangsters to throw the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds, who were considered big underdogs to the White Sox in spite of being a very good team. The White Sox had great pitching and a mighty offense.
Collins and other teammates could tell that something was not right about the play of the conspirators. For instance, Joe Jackson would make uncharacteristically weak throws from the outfield or fail to catch easy fly balls, and Eddie Cicotte would occasionally just lob a ball over the plate. The conspiracy was revealed in 1920, the guilty players were banned from baseball, and Collins never again played in a World Series.
Babe Ruth saved baseball with his titanic home runs, and the ball was given a new more bouncy core, encouraging players to swing for the fences. Collins was no power hitter, but he took advantage of the change by lowering his grip on the bat and hitting streaking line drives past infielders. A brilliant bunter, Collins would sometimes cross up opposing infielders by taking a big swing on a pitch and then laying down a bunt and racing to first base before anyone could pick up the ball. By 1924 the White Sox were paying Collins the princely sum of $40,000 a year, and he also brought in money from commercial endorsements.
Collins managed and played for the White Sox for a few seasons, helping to revive some of the team's former glory by leading it to winning seasons (but fifth-place finishes). He was traded back to the Athletics in 1927, where he excelled as a pinch hitter before retiring as a player after 1929. In 1933, he went from Chicago to the Boston Red Sox in 1933, where he was vice president of the club. Collins was responsible for canny trades and contract purchases that brought the likes of Jimmie Foxx and Lefty Grove to the Red Sox. He was also responsible for signing Ted Williams to the team. Whenever people write about the best players in the history of baseball, Collins is inevitably mentioned as possibly the best of all second basemen.
When Collins died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1951, he was one of the most loved figures in American sports. He is buried in Linwood Cemetery in Weston, Massachusetts.
In Ranking Baseball's Elite: An Analysis Derived from Player Statistics, 1893–1987 (1990), A. W. Laird makes a strong case for Collins as one of the best offensive and defensive players. Mike Getz offers anecdotes about how Collins accumulated his 3,312 career hits in Baseball's 3,000-Hit Men (1982), and Peter C. Bjarkman presents a rousing account of Collins's offensive achievements in Top Ten Baseball Base Stealers (1995). Fred McMane, The 3,000-Hit Club (2000), recounts the careers of twenty-four baseball players, including Eddie Collins. An obituary is in the New York Times (25 Mar. 1951).
Kirk H. Beetz