Last week, I was watching Hawaii Five-O when someone mentioned the name of the victim on the airplane as being “Dave Collins.” That’s a name that means something to baseball fans, particularly me.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Dave Collins was one of my favorite players. Though he was mostly a journeyman who bounced around with the Angels, Mariners, Reds, Yankees, Blue Jays, A’s and Tigers, he was a fun player to watch. He was a switch-hitter with speed who played the game hellbent for leather, hustling with all the ferocity of a Pete Rose.
He also seemed to be a rarity: a white player who could run fast. As a young baseball fan, I’d been led to believe that black players were faster than white players. For the most part, or so it seemed, white guys couldn’t run—they had “white man’s disease”—but Collins was the exception.
Collins was not a star, but at his peak, he was a good player. In 1979, he batted .318, compiled a .364 on-base percentage, covered tons of ground in left field, and even received a vote for National League MVP. In 1980, he again reached base 36 per cent of the time, batted .303 and stole a career high 79 bases.
A few years back, I decided to try to put together a page of Dave Collins baseball cards. One of the cards, from the 1977 Topps set, didn’t look right. I compared it to the other photographs of Collins. I said to myself, “That’s not Collins. It doesn’t look anything like him.”
While Collins did wear glasses, he didn’t have curly blond hair. So unless he had decided to try some kind of weird experimental perm in 1976, this just can’t be him. It has to be another player. Topps has made these mistakes from time to time, so it’s certainly not unprecedented for the wrong player to be identified on a card.
Complicating matters is the fact that the player on this card is wearing an airbrushed cap and windbreaker. The Mariners did not yet exist when Topps took this photograph. Collins played for the California Angels in 1976, so it must be someone else from the ‘76 Angels.
So that’s our mystery for the week. Who is this curly-haired player impersonating Collins on his 1977 card?