The Cincinnati Reds have this picture of one of their guys leading off first base. He is bent over from the waist, knees bent slightly, his hands balled into fists and touching his belt. At first glance, you think it is Pete Rose. He led off that way. But why are the Reds hanging a picture of the Philadelphia Phillies' richest hired hand?
It isn't Rose at all, it is Dave Collins, an outfielder whose anonymity was total a year ago. A cab driver in Philadelphia carried Collins to the ball part recently. Maybe perturbed that Rose's presence failed to inspire the failing Phillies, the cabbie told Collins, "You helped the people in Cincinnati forget Rose."
Rose could run for mayor of Cincinnati and the real politicians would leap into the Ohio River before contesting Charlie Hustle. Rose is a local kid who will be in the Hall of Fame. They won't forget him here, but neither will they stay home in mourning when the Reds, without their beautiful Rose, become winners, anyway.
Nowadays, Dick Wagner, the team president, is considered a the Phillies' $800,000-a-year offer. Back genius. Less than a year ago, he fired Manager Sparky Anderson. Eight months ago, he told Rose he could not match a year offer. Back then, Wagner was hailed as the second coming of then, Wagner was hailed as the second coming of Curly, the bald-headed one in The Three Stooges.
And who saved Wagner?
Tony Perez has been long gone.George Foster and Ken Griffey missed 100 workdays with injuries this year. With his stomach expanding in direct ratio to his growing hind quarters, once-little Joe Morgan looks more like a .250-hitting Buddha doll every day. Only three Red pitchers won as many as three games more than they lost.
That leaves Dave Collins.
The Reds knew Ray Knight could replace Rose as a third baseman. Your Aunt Hattie throws crumbs to pigeons better than Rose threw out runners from third. If Knight hit .275, the Reds would be happy. When he hit .318 with 10 home runs and 79 runs batted in, people said, well, Pete hit .331, sure, but Ray will still be here when Pete is in the Hall of Fame.
Wagner can be given points for prescience on Knight, but the Reds have been flat lucky with Dave Collins.
Like two or three hundred other big-league players, Collins says he knew he could do it if given chance to play every day. The hard fact is that if a guy is any good to begin with, he'll be playing every day somewhere.And it isn't much of a recommendation for a guy when the California Angels of three years ago -- the medicore Angels -- give you up in an expansion draft to Seattle.
"That's the Angels' mistake," Collins says triumphantly today. "I thought they'd protect me, but they didn't."
The cold type of the record book gives small indication that Dave Collins could cause a cabbie to say outlandish things. Collins is a little guy, maybe 5-foot-10, a 165-pound whippet. He is a switch hitting singles slapper with sprinter's speed. In 1973, in Salinas and El Paso, those meccas of baseball, he hit .343 and .352.
The rest of the time, he has played sparingly, so sparingly, in fact, that Seattle traded him to Cincinnati for a mediocre minor league relief pitcher, Shane Rawley.
After spending 1978 as a pinch-hitter with the Reds, Collins became an important man this season when first Foster, the left fielder, and then Griffey, the right fielder, went down with injuries. Collins has played in 122 games and is the only Red to play in every game since the All-Star break.
With Rose gone, Collins took over the leadoff spot, hitting in front of Morgan.
"I have to make things happen," Collins said. "Joe and I can present pro0lems for anybody if we get on. We both can run (Collins with 16 stolen bases, Morgan 28). The we have Dave Concepcion, George Foster and Johnny Bench coming up. We can explode."
Well, make a loud pop, maybe. These are not the Reds of Big Red Machine memory. Twice the league's most valuable player when he hit more than 20 home runs, stole more than 60 bases and hit better than .320 in 1975 and 1976, Joe Morgan now hits .250 with nine homers and 32 runs batted in. Bench has had a good year, as have Foster and Concepcion, but these Reds "don't come up to our great teams," Bench said.
"We don't score runs like they used to," Collins said. "We don't blow teams away anymore. For us to be good, our Nos. 3-4-5 hitters (Concepcion, Foster, Bench) have to hit for us. And lately we haven't been doing anything at all on offense."
Collins hit .317 right-handed, .319 left-handed. "Rose told me he thinks I'm the only switch-hitter who ever hit that high from both sides of the plate," Collins said.
Collins is a Rose devotee. "He gives 100 percent every day. He always talked to me, 'Don't give yourself up. If you're in a slump, keep fighting, come out battling. If you've had two hits already, forget them. Every time at bat is a new one.' He never says die. That rubbed off on me."
Because he is a battling, switch-hitting singles hitter who hustles like crazy and has become, if not famous, at least only semianonymous, Dave Collins often is asked if he feels that he has replaced another switch-hitting battler of no anonymity at all.
"Nobody is ever going to forget Pete Rose," Collins said. "Sure, Pete is such a leader in the way he plays. But everybody here believed we could win without him. I'm Dave Collins, not Pete Rose, and I don't want to be compared to him. It just happens that my style of play is like his."
For such small favors, Dick Wagner gives thanks.