I read of blunders and bigotries, of catastrophic acts of blind ignorance, of the incredible bungling of statesmen and those in high places and then my jaundiced eye, arrived at the sporting page, brightens. It falls upon a name in a column of names.
"E. Collins, 2b," reads the heartening box-score, "a. b.-4, h.-3, 0.-2, a.-3, e.-0."
With Senator McCumber, I join in the belief that God's sun still shines over us. Little Eddie Collins is still out there playing as near perfect ball as is permitted mortal man in a universe where error seems to be the order of the day.
Fifteen years ago when the Class of 1907, Columbia College, came up for graduation, its members were confronted with certain time-honored questions concerning their favorite authors, poets, historical characters, newspapers, actresses and habits. Assiduously gathered by the editors of the senior yearbook, the answers to the questions are presented every year to a waiting, world as evidences of the tastes of the enlightened. Longfellow and Mrs. Fiske, the New York Times and Thackeray appear with suspicious regularity among the chosen ones. Everyone except Mrs. Fiske and the New York Times realizes that here is rather a tribute to the conventions than a true expression of preference.
While the young men of 1907 were solemnly setting down the names of Julius Caesar and Oliver Cromwell as their favorite historical characters, there entered a slim youth with the cocky walk of the trained athlete who sat himself down and wrote in a bold hand:
"Favorite Historical Character--Pop Anson."
Eddie Collins, Columbia 1907, was already a familiar name in sporting circles. As quarterback of the Varsity football team in 1905--the last to represent Columbia for many drab years--he had furnished the one bright spot in the Yale game of that year, the memory of which still chafes Columbians. No one who sat in the stands and watched Eddie (who could not have weighed more than 125), handle every booming punt that came his way will soon forget the sight. So weak was the Columbia line, so swift the Yale ends that inevitably the midget quarter found two enormous forms hovering above him as he held out his hands for the ball. But Eddie never once signaled for a fair catch. Each time he took the desperate chance of evading those titan arms and each time Eddie's head hit the sparse turf of the American League Park with a thud that resounded over Harlem.
One never expected to see Eddie arise again after one of these astounding tackles. The eyes of the faithful were averted. But behold, there was Eddie on his feet like crushed truth arisen, yelling signals to his vainly struggling cohorts. And once he ran for thirty yards through men who loomed about him as Sequoias.
There is another and more pleasing memory for Columbia men of Eddie covering short in a Yale baseball game at the same park. The Blue and White pitcher that day took unto himself many of the disheartening characteristics of the Blue and White football line. But this time brawn didn't count for as much. Collins stood up under a rapid fire of hits pulling down screaming liners with his bare hands, intercepting certain singles, running over to second to retire rash base-runners. At bat he drove the ball just over the heads of Yale fielders or straight at their amazed feet. Baseball is generally supposed to be a cooperative enterprise but that afternoon Eddie made an outstanding case for the philosophy of individualism.
When a man has been playing professional baseball for fifteen years on top of four years of college ball he is usually referred to as "veteran," "hoary" and "old ancient." I have seen no such references to Collins. Never have I heard a fan remark of Collins, "That bird is cooked. They should bench him." Rather do the bleachers say with a certain awe, "You can't beat that Collins boy, he's in there playing ball all a' time."
But the perfect tribute to Collins comes, I think, from the umpires. These close-fisted cynics are Sir Huberts with their praise. Have you ever noticed that on those happily rare occasions when Eddie fumbles one, the base umpire turns and grins at his manifest discomfiture? It is decidedly unethical for an umpire to express any feeling whatever about the misfortunes of a ball-player. When instead of condoning them they smile, the implications are that the umpires are saying, "Why Eddie, you of all people to pull a bone like that. I wouldn't have thought it of you, Eddie."
The day that an umpire, instead of kidding Eddie, pats him on the back after a muff, that day he becomes "the veteran Collins."
Collins is sure of his hand from the stands in whatever park he plays, because to the American baseball public he represents two things more to be desired than honey and the honeycomb--the fighting spirit and the competence that makes it effective.
Go up to the Polo Grounds the next time the Sox are in town and watch Collins bring his whole team along with him to impossible victories. If you are wearied of man's seeming impotence, especially wearied perhaps of the inability of the unquestioned fighting spirit of the radical and liberal to arrive anywhere, listen to Collins exhorting his colleagues in "large, divine and comfortable words" and then watch him arrive at second-base an eye flash ahead of the runner.
Some years ago another Columbia man wrote a haunting poem beginning: "They went forth to battle. But they always fell."
Sometimes it seems as though all movements for progress in affairs social, political and economic had chosen those lines for a slogan. We are constantly going forth to battle but we seem always to remember the fate of those imagined heroes. Our fighting spirit is there but it is doomed to sterility by the fatalism of the second line.
I would like to have Eddie Collins's opinion of such a philosophy of forlorn hope. I am very much afraid he would descend to the vernacular of the ball park and dismiss it as "the bunk."