Grave Story: Eddie Collins Jr. (1916-2000)

Here lies Eddie Collins Jr., the son of one baseball Hall of Famer and the son-in-law of another. Being related to two baseball greats is a tall order for a ballplayer, but he made a name for himself both in and outside of baseball. Collins played for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1939 and 1941-42.

Edward Trowbridge Collins Jr. was born in Lansdowne, Pa., on November 23, 1916. At the time of his birth, his father, Eddie Collins, was in the middle of his career as one of the greatest second basemen of his era. Eddie Jr.’s birth was commemorated in the newspapers as follows: “The stork hovered in the neighborhood of Lansdowne yesterday and left a baby boy at the home of Eddie Collins, one of Connie Mack’s former fence-breakers of $100,000 infield fame, now of the Chicago White Sox. The prospective baseball player arrived early in the morning and indicated immediately that he would be good on the coaching line. He will be named Edward Trowbridge Collins, Jr. He has a big brother, Paul Collins, who is five and a half years old. Mrs. Collins is doing well.”

Collins was introduced to baseball at an early age and recalled that his earliest memory of the game came when he was five years old and watching his father play second base for the White Sox at Comiskey Park. “Other people, I suppose, remember great plays they saw him make,” he recalled later in life. “A ground ball was hit straight at him… and it skipped over his head. Oddly that sticks in my mind better than any other play. Maybe because the bobble distressed me.”

Eddie Collins Jr. was a top-notch football player in high school and college. Source: The Minneapolis Star, October 9, 1936.

Eddie Sr. was a graduate of Columbia University. His children were likewise given chances for top-tier education. Paul studied in New York and became a minister. Eddie Jr. attended Episcopal Academy, a private school in Merion, Pa. Right around the time that Collins Sr. was in the news for joining the Boston Red Sox front office as general manager, Collins Jr. was making waves of his own. A second baseman and first baseman, the younger Collins established himself as one of the greatest all-around athletes that Episcopal Academy had seen in decades. The Boston Globe reported in 1935 that he led the team in hits and was awarded with a bat from his own father. He also won the Bob Scott Memorial Cup for highest average, batting, fielding and general scholarship, as well as the Sportsman Cup, awarded to a student athlete who best combined athletic achievement and academic scholarship. Collins was also the football team’s quarterback and kicker and was named to the All-Interacademic team. When he wasn’t doing all that, he was a forward on the basketball team and tied Interacademic track records in the 100- and 220-yard dash.

“I’d like to see my son continue in baseball and give the big leagues a try if he has any possibilities,” said Collins Sr. as he awarded his son a bat at a varsity club banquet.

Collins Sr. tried to get his son to follow in his footsteps to Columbia University. However, Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey lobbied hard to get the boy to Yale University and even brought him to the Yale-Harvard football game New Haven, Conn., in 1935. Yawkey won out, and Collins continued his academic and athletic career in Yale. As a freshman, Collins was promoted to the varsity football team as a kicker and later in his school career as a running back. He kept his baseball skills sharp by playing on the Yale team and in places like Saranac Lake in the summers. He probably broke his father’s heart by scoring six runs in a 17-2 slaughter of Columbia by Yale on April 14, 1937, thanks to a double, four singles and a walk.

Collins majored in modern history at Yale, but he was looking at a baseball future, too. “Ever since I was a kid and used to watch dad play, I wanted to be a major league baseball player myself,” he said. “I intend to play pro ball, preferably in the American League. If I do well in college games, I shall give it a try.”

Collins was open to the idea of starting in the minors if necessary. However, when he graduated from Yale in 1939, he signed with the Philadelphia Athletics, where his father started his baseball career, and reported directly to the majors as an outfielder. He was used mainly as a pinch-hitter and pinch-runner, and though he only had one stolen base, his speed was very impressive. In 32 games, he had 5 hits in 21 at-bats for a .238 batting average. Longtime A’s manager Connie Mack couldn’t get credit for managing two generations of Collinses, at least not in 1939. Mack was ill and left the team after about 60 games. His son, Earle Mack, led the team for the final 90 games.

Philadelphia A’s interim manager Earle Mack counsels Eddie Collins Jr. Source: The Evening Herald, July 13, 1939.

Collins spent all of 1940 with the Baltimore Orioles, of the International League. He hit .293 with 26 doubles, and he showed good speed on the bases and good defense in the outfield. Though not known for a strong arm, he nevertheless had 16 outfield assists. He returned to the Athletics in 1941, with the elder Mack now back at the helm. The A’s lost 90 games, but they did have a really good outfield trio of Wally Moses, Bob Johnson and Sam Chapman. Collins started the first 11 games of the season, playing primarily in right field to replace an injured Moses. He handled himself well, too. He batted .277 with 3 doubles and 7 runs scored as the team’s leadoff hitter. Eventually, Moses played his way back into the lineup and hit .301 in 116 games. Collins played in 80 games, getting time in all three outfield positions as well as pinch-hitting frequently. He slashed .242/.305/.297 with 6 doubles and 3 triples, scoring 29 times.

Over the offseason, Collins got married to the former Jane Pennock, daughter of Hall of Fame pitcher Herb. The Rev. Paul Collins, brother of the groom, performed the ceremony. Herb and Eddie Sr. both broke into the majors with the Philadelphia A’s, became close friends and even worked together in the Red Sox front office. Along with being a newlywed, Collins Jr. saw an opportunity with the A’s, which had traded away Moses to Boston and lost Chapman to the U.S. Navy. “Don’t forget, the family honor is at stake – both the Collins and Pennock family honor.”

The Navy soon came for Collins, just as it had Chapman. In 20 games in 1942, Collins batted .235, with 8 hits in his 34 at-bats. He was inducted into the U.S. Navy at the end of May. Throughout World War II, he was a lieutenant aboard the USS Miami, a light cruiser that saw action in the Pacific, including the Iwo Jima and Okinawa invasions, per the website Baseball in Wartime. He missed the birth of his first child, Eddie III, and didn’t even know he was a father until the Miami was temporarily stationed in Philadelphia in December.

Collins remained away from baseball until 1946, when he was discharged. Now 29 years old, Collins was released by the Athletics during spring training and spent the year playing for Jersey City and Buffalo of the International League. He hit a combined .291 in 61 games, which were his final appearances in professional baseball.

In three seasons in the majors, Collins appeared in 132 games. He slashed .241/.302/.296, with 66 hits in 274 at-bats. He had 9 doubles and 3 triples, while stealing 4 bases in 5 attempts. He scored 41 runs and drove in 16.

Connie Mack congratulates newlyweds Jane and Eddie Collins Jr. Source: The News Journal (Wilmington, Del.), January 5, 1942.

By the time he ended his playing career, his father-in-law Pennock had become the general manager of the Philadelphia Phillies. Collins joined the team as an assistant director of the farm system. He held that role from 1947 until 1954 and then became assistant general manager in 1955. He also acted as an interim manager for the Wilmington Blue Rocks in 1948 when manager Jack Sanford was called away for a family emergency. He was constantly on the go, traveling to visit all the Phillies’ minor-league teams on a regular basis. His travel increased when the Phillies expanded westward, with minor-league teams in Salt Lake City, Utah, and Spokane, Wash.

Herb Pennock died in 1948, and Eddie Collins Sr. in 1951. Collins Jr. quit his post with the Phillies in October of 1955, apparently due to conflicts with general manager Roy Hamey. Collins, in his resignation letter to Phillies president Bob Carpenter, wrote, “I have had to endorse policies and actions of which I personally disapprove. This conflict of ideas restricts me from giving my best efforts on behalf of the Philadelphia club. I think in the best interests of the club I should resign.”

“It was just a case of two baseball men with irreconcilable ideas. They don’t belong on the same club,” Collins later explained. Hamey, when he was hired as general manager, was given free reign over the minor leagues. That decision apparently led to conflicts with Collins, though the exact nature of those policy conflicts was never fully explained.

Collins takes a swing during spring training. Source: Fort Worth Star-Telegram, February 25, 1946.

Collins joined the Syracuse Chiefs as vice president in 1956. He went to work for Joe Reardon, who had been the farm director of the Philadelphia Phillies (and Collins’ superior) before he, too, was driven out by Hamey. He stayed there a year before looking for a job that would keep him closer to his home and family in Kennett Square, Pa. He earned his master’s degree in education from Harvard University and became the head of the history department at Episcopal Academy, his old school. He also coached baseball and was the backfield coach of the football team. He never missed the administrative role of a baseball front office.

“About the only aspect I used to enjoy was traveling, when you could eat good steaks at someone else’s expense,” he remarked.

Collins retired from his teaching position in 1982. He was inducted into the Delaware County chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame in 1989, and he was a part of the inaugural Episcopal Academy Athletic Hall of Fame Class of 2000. On his 75th birthday, the Lansdowne Borough Council declared it Eddie Collins Jr. Day. He made public appearances at baseball card shows and Philadelphia A’s reunions right up to the last year of his life.

Eddie Collins Jr. died of cardiac arrest at Southern Chester County Medical Center in Jennersville, Pa., on November 2, 2000. He was 83 years old and was survived by Jane and his two sons, Edward and Peter. Jane died on December 14, 10 days after her 81st birthday. They are buried in Union Hill Cemetery in Kennett Square, next to Pennock.

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