Barely a man survives who saw the great Eddie Collins play ball. One of the great second basemen in baseball history, Collins was part of the original class inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1939.
There’s a section of the Sports Museum of Dutchess County devoted to Eddie Collins, the greatest athlete ever born in this bucolic county in the Mid-Hudson Valley, situated less than 75 miles from Times Square. Collins, born in 1887, was a native of Millerton, a small, rail town in the Harlem Valley, in the northeast part of the county.
Here are 10 things about the great Collins you may not know:
1. Collins father John was a railroad freight agent. When little Eddie was eight months old, the family moved to Tarrytown, 30 miles north of New York City. There Collins attended the Irving School.
2. Eddie Collins (like Lou Gehrig after him) attended Columbia University, where as a 135-pound, 16-year-old he quarterbacked the football team and was the starting shortstop for the baseball team.
3. While still at Columbia, Collins made his major league debut with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1906, and reached Big Ed Walsh of the Chicago White Sox for a bunt single in his first at bat.
4. Collins became the regular second baseman for the A’s in 1908. He was an everyday player for the next two decades, with the A’s and later the White Sox. In 1914, he won the Chalmers Award, a precursor of the MVP. was the American League’s MVP. That year Collins hit .344 and scored 122 runs to lead the league.
5. Nearly 100 years ago, on September 11, 1912, Collins became the first player in the 20th Century to steal six bases in a single game. Exactly 11 days later he did it again. That mark has since been equalled by several players, most recently by Carl Crawford of Tampa Bay against the Red Sox in 2009, but never broken.
6. Collins played on four World Series winners (A’s in 1910-11-13 and White Sox in 1917), and was a stalwart post-season performance. Three times in six World Series he hit better than .400, and finished with a .328 lifetime average in post-season play.
7. Collins was one of the clean members of the 1919 Chicago “Black Sox” team that threw the World Series to Cincinnati. “Sure, I heard that the fix was on, but I looked on it as just idle gossip and completely preposterous,” said Collins afterward.
8. Collins played his last game at age 43 on August 2, 1930. He finished his career with a .333 lifetime batting average, 3,315 hits (ninth all time), 1821 runs and 745 stolen bases, which is the seventh highest total of steals lifetime. He has the fewest home runs, just 47, of any member of the 3,000 hit club.
9. Collins joined the Red Sox as vice president and general manager when fellow Irving Schooler Tom Yawkey purchased the team in 1933. Sadly, he is perhaps best remembered for his no-show decision in 1945, when Jackie Robinson and two other Negro Leaguers tried out for Boston. That decision resulted in the Red Sox becoming the last team to integrate.
10. A devout religious man, Collins passed away on Easter Sunday, 1951, at age 63. Survived by his wife and two sons, he was buried in Linwood Cemetery in Weston, Massachusetts.
Fifty years ago, August 23, 1958, I saw my very first baseball game.
I still remember it like it was yesterday. A seven-year-old kid, walking into Yankee Stadium with my Dad and seeing the immense ballfield, the green facade, the monuments in center field. The pinstriped legends on the field.
That Saturday afternoon, the Chicago White Sox beat the Yankees, 7-1, as Billy Pierce bested Whitey Ford in a battle of southpaws.
Six future Hall of Famers played in that game — Ford, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Enos Slaughter for the Yankees and Nellie Fox and Luis Aparicio for the ChiSox.
Ray Boone hit a solo home run and knocked in four runs for Chicago. Moose Skowron homered in the seventh for the only Yankee run.
I’ve been hooked ever since.
PS — Exactly 10 years later, August 23, 1968, I saw 28 innings of baseball at the Stadium. The Yankees won the first game of the twi-night doubleheader, 2-1; the two teams played to a 3-3, 19-inning tie in the nightcap.