All-Time A's #6:
Though best known for his role on the infamous Chicago Black Sox - a major motion picture will do that - Eddie Collins was truly one of the all-time greats. In fact, none other than Bill James said, "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."
On top of his .333 career batting average and 3,311 hits (#8 all-time), Collins stole 744 bases, retiring at #3 on the all-time list and still holding strong at #7. He's also the only player two steal six bases in a game - doing it twice, eleven days apart in 1912. While his career .853 OPS does not look impressive by today's standards, when measured against the .707 the league posted during that period you start to realize what an outstanding player Cocky Collins really was.
A cursory glance at his stats might make one believe that Collins was the perfect leadoff hitter. On top of his stolen bases he also posted a .424 lifetime on-base percentage, the 14th best of all-time. He was much more than that, however, while his career .429 slugging percentage does not look impressive, he finished in the top ten in the league nine times and is #12 all-time in triples.
Collins signed with the A's as a 19 year old - shortly before being declared ineligible to continue to play for Columbia because he was playing as a professional under and assumed name - and became an everyday player in 1909 at the age of 22. While the Rookie of the Year Award was decades from invention, Collins would have likely taken the hardware with his .347 average and 67 stolen bases - both second best in the league.
The next year the first A's dynasty began. With Collins as the star of a team including fellow HOFers Homerun Baker, Eddie Plank and Chief Bender cruised through the regular season to 102 wins. Again with Collins in the lead, the team cruised to an easy 4-1 series victory over the Cubs as Collins batted .429 and posted an OPS near 1.100.
In 1911, Stuffy McInnis became the full-time first baseman and the famous "Hundred Thousand Dollar Infield" took shape. Along with Frank Baker at third and Jack Barry at short, the group was known as much for their smooth teamwork on defense as they were for their individual skill. Collins was again outstanding, setting career highs in OPS (.931) and stolen bases (81). Not surprisingly they returned to the World Series that year, beating the Giants in six games.
His remaining years with the A's were more of same. Consistently great numbers, consistently great teams. From 1910 through 1914 the A's went to the Series four times and won three of them.
After finishing third twice in the last three years, 1914 was finally Collins' year to win his only MVP award. With Ty Cobb missing much of the year and Tris Speaker seemingly invisible in Boston, Collins was the unanimous pick. He was second in the league in both batting average and OPS while finishing third in OPS.
After that year, Connie Mack had decided he had paid his "Hundred Thousand Dollar Infield" enough, however, and the squad was disbanded. Collins was replaced by a forty-year-old Nap Lajoie and Stuffy McInnis was the only remaining member of the great infield.
Sold to Charles Comisky and the Chicago White Sox, Collins was never really one of the gang. While Collins kept his A's contract when he went to Chicago and was paid fairly, while his teammates suffered through Comisky's miserly ways. While the rest came from more humble backgrounds, Collins was an Ivy League graduate and did not take to his teammates' backwater ways.
Some might say he was lucky for this, however, because, when his teammates threw the World Series in 1919 they did not include him and his legacy was untarnished. He played with the White Sox for twelve seasons, winning one World Series and posting stellar numbers until his career wound down. His last two years with the White Sox he served as player-manager but then returned to the A's for his last three year.
As the heir-apparent to Connie Mack (then in his late 60s), Collins was the third base coach and unofficial assistant manager. After three years he found a better opportunity, however, and became General Manager and part owner of the Red Sox when he convinced friend Tom Yawkey to buy them. His achievements included prying Jimmy Foxx and Lefty Grove away from the A's and scouting and signing Hall of Famers Ted Williams and Bobby Doer.
Collins was truly one of the all-time greats, contributing in every facet of the game. With his choke-up grip, Collins produced a great average, good power and a great on-base percentage. His athleticism led him to being on of the great base stealers of all-time as well as playing an excellent second base. His wits also proved to make him a quality manager and, later, general manager.