Last Week at Rotary

March 31, 2016

Dave Collins

Major League Baseball

 Charles Phillips introduced Dave Collins. It is now 4 days until Opening Day in Cincinnati! What better way to kick off the countdown than to hear from a former member of the Big Red Machine. Dave Collins was born in 1952. He grew up and played baseball in Rapid City, South Dakota. In 1972 he was called to the California Angels. He debuted in Idaho Falls, Idaho. He was dubbed the “fastest white man in baseball” and ran the 100 yard dash in 9.6 seconds. He used this talent to steal bases. He joined the Big Red Machine for four seasons and later played for the Yankees, the Toronto Blue Jays, the Oakland A’s, the Detroit Tigers, and the St. Louis Cardinals over his 16 year career.

Dave has been in Cincinnati since 1978. He told us that when he was playing for the Seattle Mariners in the 1977 off season he was on his way to see a hockey game and the car radio reported he had been traded to the Cincinnati Reds. The first thing he said upon hearing that was “Why would they trade for me?” Joining the Reds was the best thing that had happened to me. Being around that team not only changed me as a player, but also as a person. The things they did and said outside the game changed me. I was so lost that if you could look up the word “lost” in the dictionary, you would find my picture. They helped me to learn what was important in life. They were phenomenal people. I don’t know today’s Pete Rose. He is not the same guy I knew back then.

In 1978, I was last to get into the game. Afterward Pete came up to me and asked me, “Who has better speed? Who is a better hitter? Who covered more bases? I had to answer him, “No one.” He said, “You’ve got a tremendous throwing arm. Why aren’t you playing? I wasn’t playing because I didn’t believe in myself. Back in Rapid City, Iowa I idolized these players. I couldn’t see myself on the same team.

Before long the Reds greatness began to rub off. I ended up playing every day. Once I said to Pete, “I’m going to get 4 hits today! (Thinking I’d impress him.)” He responded saying, “What if you’re up 5 times?” Pete Rose made the others great. His enthusiasm, energy, and attitude were second to none. Even when he was in trouble, he thought he was playing great. Another time, the League leaders manned the starting lineup with Dave Couch batting 5th. Pete Rose was not in the lineup. Yet, Pete would say, “The guy who is going to win it, isn’t even up there. What, you don’t think I can win this game?” He had tenacity and a positive attitude.

When I left the Reds, I tried to act like Pete Rose. Follow and you’ll get the same result.

One time at the end of 1978 when Joe Morgan was hurt with injuries, he was in the equipment room talking to the third base coach. Joe was in tears. He said if he’d played the way he was capable of playing, we’d have won our division. In 1979, Joe was on the team. He said, “I did all I could do.”  He demonstrated such character.

Another time in Montreal, Sparky Anderson was talking to the guys in the locker room. He told the team they were slipping. He said, “You can’t just show up and play. A lot of people are counting on us.” Pete stood up and said, “Hey see those new guys, they don’t have a ring. Let’s get out there and get them one!” The Reds were all about being a great teammate. It wasn’t the stats accumulated or the numbers marked. I was always trying to get something for me. They tried to do it for others.

Later when I was about to retire from playing, Joe Torre asked if I’d like to be a coach. I wasn’t phenomenal as a player so I asked him, “Why?” He said because you’re a great teammate. After being with the Reds, I became a better husband and a better father. I had watched everything they did and said. Once during a game a new recruit to the organization, Champ Summers, came back to the bench and threw down his helmet. Immediately Joe Morgan countered the act with, “We don’t do that here.” That’s respecting the game. As they walked off the field, the game was “standing tall.”

Another time Johnny Bench put some clothes in my locker. Later when I looked inside, I said, “Whose are these?” I was told that Johnny had done it so I would look good on the road as we travelled.

Johnny Bench had a stand down with the second base man during one of the games. Johnny said, “ Even on second, you’ve got to move.” This was more important to Johnny than making the hit. I learned that “it was not about I and me, but instead about us and we.” 

In 1987, I played with Pete and the Reds when Pete’s gambling came out. Pete was addicted to competing. He gambled to win on anything. One night he even had us betting on what time we’d get to the hotel. That’s just what he did. We never questioned his motives. We knew he played to win. Yes, he made a mistake gambling, but one mistake he never made was giving his 100%. He played hurt many times and never complained. Everything he did was done at “full speed.”

There was a walk-on to Georgetown University’s football team named Henry Peterson. Four years went by and despite his regular attendance at practice, he never got to play. Finally the coach called him in and said, “I’ll let you play in the last game.” Right before the game, the young man’s father died. The coach called him and asked what he could do for the young player. He told the coach to say a prayer for his father at the game. On the night of the game, June, 2011, the young man showed up at the game instead of attending the funeral. The coach asked him what he was doing there. The young man said, “My family wanted me to play so I’m here.” The coach let him carry the ball from the very beginning and then 27 more times to earn 240 yards. Coach apologized saying he had had no idea of the kid’s talent. The young man said that he didn’t know it either. Because his dad was blind, this was the first day his dad had seen him play.

We shut down our talents. We’ve got to let ourselves shine, not for ourselves, but for others. In 1978 Joe Morgan taught me that. Today I coach. I teach those lessons that I should have learned a long time ago. In baseball, if you develop yourself into the best you can be, you succeed in life. You’re never disappointed.

The game today has changed. Money talks today. We didn’t go on strike for them to not honor the game. I think this Reds team will play with heart. The game itself, though, could be in trouble. Today the players don’t know one another because they are constantly moving. The game is for the fans. This should be the top priority. 

When I retired in 1990, I looked down the bench and saw blacks, latinos, japanese, and a Korean all in the same uniform pulling for one team. What a metaphor for the world!

Questions/Answers

  1. Who was your greatest coach? Warner Hickey… when I was 10 and played in Rapid City. He taught us something that had nothing to do with baseball. He said, “Take time to tell people how much you appreciate them before it’s too late.” It had everything to do with the game of life.
  2. What are you doing today? I’m  a 16 year coach in the summer and fall. I coach 8 – 18 year olds giving lessons about everything from mental thinking to personal development. I tell them to bring a notebook to help them learn to play the game, but also to refer to live life. I try to focus on personal development. The program is “tailor-made” for the city kids. I hope to make a positive difference in their lives.
  3. What do you remember about Bernie Stowe?  He was a prankster in the locker room. When I first got to the Reds, Sparky called me Dougie for some reason. Since I was new to the team, I stayed late to hit. This put me into the shower after the others. Bernie peaked around the corner and gave me the eye each day for three days. I’m beginning to think I’m going to have a problem with him. Pretty soon he burst out laughing. He always had us laughing.
  4. It’s not an obligation; but an opportunity to lead young people to live a better life. It’s not about who we are, but instead it’s about the others. Baseball reveals character every day. 
  5. When asked to bet on Dion Sanders or Hamilton. Dion Sanders flies, but Hamilton is quicker on the start. I would put my money on Sanders.