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Happy Birthday Dave Collins

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Cincinnati Reds
I don’t have a picture of Collins as a Blue Jay.

Dave Collins turns 68 today. We don’t have a picture of him in a Jays jersey, unfortunately.

Dave (they called him Davey a lot back then. I think if I was a Dave I’d punch anyone who called me Davey) was with the Blue Jays for 2 seasons of a 16-yeah MLB career.

How we ended up with him was a interesting story. Collins came up with the Angels, played his first couple of seasons there. Then the Mariners took him in the expansion draft. After a season, they traded him to the Reds, where he played for four seasons. He became a good player there. No power, but he got on base well, and he had speed. In the strike-shortened 1981 season, he hit .272/.355/.381 with 26 steals in 95 games (a bit of a down year for him). After that year, Yankees’ owner George Steinbrenner decided the way to win was with speed. Power hitters were out, and base stealers were in.

Being the boss, he got his way, and the Yankees signed Collins to 3-year, $2.5 million contract, which was a fair bit of money back then. Pinstripe Alley picked it as the Yankees’ fifth worst free agent contact in team history. Here is some of what they said:

After the Yankees lost the 1981 World Series to the Dodgers, George Steinbrenner decided that the team’s offense was focused on power a bit much and instead needed to develop their small ball game. Yes fans, it was the accursed #TooManyDamnHomers trend before Twitter co-founder Evan Williams was even 10 years old. Reggie Jackson’s time with the Yankees came to an end, and in came, among others, former Reds speedster Dave Collins. Following a few seasons of promise with the Angels and Mariners, the 29-year-old outfielder made a name for himself in 1980, when he stole 79 bases for Cincinnati.

Even though he slipped to 26 steals in 95 games for the Reds in ‘81 and the Yankees didn’t really have a definite position for him, Steinbrenner made sure that GM Bill Bergesch added Collins to his ‘82 “Bronx Burners” squad. It was bizarre from the get-go, with the Big Stein reorganizing spring training drills to focus on speed and just generally causing all sorts of idiocy. Turns out, the big plan was a failure! (But please, go on about the “if the Boss was alive” nonsense.) The Yankees’ powerful pennant-winning offense from ‘81 slipped to mediocre in ‘82, and they ended the year under .500. Collins only hit .253/.315/.330 with an 80 OPS+ and -0.7 WAR in 111 games, which were confusingly split among four positions, and he stole just 13 bases in 21 attempts.

I don’t think George ever heard of building the team to suit your park.

Not surprisingly, the Yankees had a lousy season, and George decided that speed might not have been the way to build a winner.

After the season, Collins was shipped to the Blue Jays along with Fred McGriff, Mike Morgan and cash for Tom Dodd and Dale Murray. Murray was an average-ish middle reliever. Dodd played in 8 MLB games, none of them with the Yankees.

We got a player who should be in the Hall of Fame in McGriff. He spent 5 seasons with the Jays hitting .278/.389/.530 with 125 home runs and then was part of the trade that brought us Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter.

Morgan had a disappointing 1983 season and was lost to the Mariners in the Rule 5 draft after the season. He’d go on to have a pretty good MLB career, with 4.23 ERA in 597 games, 411 starts.

And Collins played 2 seasons with the Jays.

In 1983 he hit .271/.343/.328 with 31 steals in 118 games.

He had a better year in 1984, hitting .308/.366/.444 with 60 steals and 15 triples. The 60 steals is still a team record. The 15 triples is the second-most ever for a Blue Jay, Tony Fernandez had 17 in 1990.

In 1884, he was part of a pretty complicated platoon in the outfield. Collins, a switch-hitter, would play left against RHP, pushing George Bell to right field, Willie Aikens, and Jesse Barfield to the bench. Against lefties, Collins would sit, Bell would play left, Barfield right, and Cliff Johnson would DH. As the season went on Barfield got more playing time.

With Bell, Barfield and Moesby being younger and better players, the Jays traded Collins to the A’s, along with Alfredo Griffin, for closer Bill Caudill. Caudill had one good season with us, 2.99 ERA and 14 saves in 1985 and one awful season, 2 saves and a 6.19 ERA before being released in April 1987.

Collins would go from the A’s to the Tigers, Reds, and Cardinals before his career ended in 1990. He’s coached in the MLB, and the minors since and has also coached college and high school ball.

Career he hit .272/.338/.351 with 395 steals (91 of them with the Jays, good for 10th on our all-time list, one ahead of Vernon Wells) in 1701 games, mostly in left field, but he also played right, center, and some first base.

Happy Birthday, Dave.