Eddie Collins was one of the most accomplished all-around ballplayers ever to play the game. They called Collins “Cocky,” not because he was arrogant, but because he was filled with confidence based on sheer ability. Bill James wrote, “Collins sustained a remarkable level of performance for a remarkably long time. He was past thirty when the lively ball era began, yet he adapted to it and continued to be one of the best players in baseball every year…his was the most valuable career that any second baseman ever had.”
Collins played for 25 years, 20 of them as a regular. He won no batting titles because he played during the same time as Ty Cobb, but did lead the AL in stolen bases four times and in runs scored three consecutive seasons, 1912-14. Collins batted .333 lifetime, and stole 743 bases. He had 3,311 hits (eighth all-time) and was a superlative fielder, leading second basemen in fielding average nine times. He was an adroit bunter, a slashing, lefthanded-batting hit-and-run man, and a brilliant baserunner. In the dugout or on the coaching lines, he was a canny, sign-stealing, intuitive strategist.
Collins’s background was atypical of a player of the early 1900s. He starred as captain of Columbia University’s baseball team. Barred from playing his senior year because he had disguised himself as “Eddie Sullivan” to play professionally (even getting into a few games with the Athletics), Collins was named Columbia’s coach, and stayed to get his degree.
Collins was one of the key young players on Connie Mack‘s great Athletic teams of 1909-14 that won pennants in all but 1912. He was the premier player in Mack’s “$100,000 Infield,” with Jack Barry at shortstop, Stuffy McInnis at first base, and Frank Baker at third base, a unit valued for its finely meshed teamwork as well as the players’ great individual skills. Collins later attributed this harmony on the field to the personal relationships off it, which continued past playing days. The “$100,000 Infield’s” exceptional defense had a big payoff in the dead ball era, when teams scrapped for one run at a time.
When Connie Mack disbanded his long-reigning team in 1915, he sold Collins to the Chicago White Stockings. Collins starred in the 1917 World Series, hitting .409, and scoring a key run on one of his typical heads-up plays during a game-winning, Series-ending rally. Collins had maneuvered into a rundown between third and home to allow two other baserunners to get into scoring position. Seeing no one covering the plate, he wheeled past the catcher as he threw to third baseman Heinie Zimmerman, who unsuccessfully chased the fleet Collins home.
In 1918 Collins joined the Marines, but was back the next season on another pennant-winner, the infamous 1919 Chicago “Black Sox.” As one of the “honest players,” he was unforgiving of the eight who had sold out, yet described the team as the greatest on which he had played, winning despite hostility, feuds, and outright crookedness.
Collins continued to play season after season of superlative second base, always batting over .300. After the White Sox finished last in 1924, Collins was named manager. He led them for two seasons, winning more than he lost, but finished fifth both years. The White Sox judged that his days as an everyday infielder were ending, and released the $40,000-a-year player-manager.
Connie Mack invited his former star to return to his rebuilt Philadelphia A’s. Collins played less and less, but took over more and more field duties from Mack. He was third-base coach and, unofficially, assistant manager, and turned down offers to manage other teams. The A’s won three straight pennants (1929-31), with Collins pinch-hitting a few times in 1929 and ’30. The promise of the Shibe brothers (the A’s owners) and Mack that Collins would succeed old Connie (then 67) kept Collins on hand. Fortunately, he didn’t stay around long, since Mack didn’t retire until age 88.
Instead, Collins’s opportunity to run a team came with the Boston Red Sox. He and Tom Yawkey were alumni of the same prep school and became friends. The millionaire sportsman, on Collins’s advice, purchased the Red Sox and brought Collins in as part-owner and GM. Collins began rebuilding a team that had never recovered from the sale of stars to the Yankees a decade earlier. Yawkey’s money bought Joe Cronin from Washington to be player-manager, and pried loose stars Jimmie Foxx and Lefty Grove from the A’s. Collins went on just one scouting trip for the Red Sox, to California, but came back with two extraordinary prospects, Bobby Doerr and Ted Williams.
Eddie Collins was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1939, the year Eddie, Jr. debuted with the Athletics as an outfielder.