Year Inducted: 1939 (BBWAA, ballot #4, 213/274)
The Dead Ball Era was not necessarily a point of terrible offense for Major League Baseball, just a point in time when there was relatively little power. That doesn’t mean that there weren’t some great hitters of that era, rather the great hitters of that time were some of the best ever. Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker were the greatest hitters of that time, but both finished with more than 100 career homers. The one player that best epitomized that era, where slap hitting, line drives and excellent base running were the keys to winning, was Eddie Collins.
The diminutive Collins (only 5’9″) played in the Majors for 25 seasons. In that time, Collins slapped his way to a line of .333/.424/.429 with a wRC+ of 144. Collins, an Ivy graduate that was nicknamed “Cocky” due to his upbringing and attitude, was a student of the game and knew that getting on base and hitting the ball the opposite way was more important at that time than power. As such, Collins only hit 47 home runs in his career, but his speed and line-drive style of hitting produced 438 doubles and 187 triples. While on base (which he was quite often after having 3315 hits and 1499 walks), Collins made it his duty to study the pitchers, believing that they were the keys for him to get stolen bases, not the opposing catchers. Collins would watch and study not only the hands and grips of pitchers, but their hips and legs as well, which allowed him to take great leads off of first base and, despite not being the swiftest of foot, helped him steal 744 bases in his career while scoring over 1800 runs. His value on the bases, +42 runs per Fangraphs, added to his ability to drive in runs (over 1300 in his career) made Collins one of the best offensive weapons in the game.
Defensively, Collins was strong as well. However, like with every long career, age set in eventually which drove down his defensive score to “only” 68.3 runs above average, when age easily robbed him of about 14 runs towards the end of his career. Collins also logged several games at shortstop in his career, which probably wasn’t the best idea as his range at short was poor compared to the great range he displayed at second base.
Collins retired as a player after the 1930 season, when he was 43 years old. By that time, among all second basemen, Cocky Collins ranked: 2nd in fWAR, OBP and base running runs, 1st in steals, hits, walks and runs and third in batting average. The only second baseman to that point that was absolutely better than Collins was Rogers Hornsby, and that was primarily due to the power that Hornsby had (though the gap narrowed slightly with Collins’ base running abilities).
Collins’ Hall of Fame balloting was hurt simply due to the time that he fell on the ballot. The first voting occurred in 1936, which meant that the BBWAA had a large logjam of truly great players, as well as somewhat sketchy rules about who could be voted for. As such, Collins had to wait until the fourth ever ballot to gain induction, instead of being a first ballot player like he should have been. Collins was a smart, valuable player and was tailor made for that period.
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