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Happy B-day, Home Run Baker!

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On this day in 1886, John Franklin “Home Run” Baker was born in Trappe, Maryland, to this day a sleepy farm town not far from the Chesapeake Bay. 

Twenty-two and one-half years later, Frank would find himself playing with Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics of the American League in Shibe Park – the first concrete-and-steel ballpark of the age – batting .290 and fielding thirdbase perfectly in nine late-season games in what would become the liftoff of a brilliant baseball career. 

His plaque in the Hall of Fame sums it up:

JOHN FRANKLIN BAKER
PHILADELPHIA A.L. 1908-1914
NEW YORK A.L. 1916-1922
MEMBER OF CONNIE MACK’S FAMOUS
$100,000 INFIELD. LED AMERICAN LEAGUE
IN HOME-RUNS 1911-12-13, TIED IN 1914.
WON TWO WORLD SERIES GAMES FROM
GIANTS IN 1911 WITH HOME-RUNS THUS
GETTING NAME “HOME RUN” BAKER. PLAYED
IN SIX WORLD SERIES 1910-11-13-14-21-22.

Frank earned the nickname “Home Run” after the 1911 World Series versus the New York Giants.  In game two, he slammed a two-run dinger off Rube Marquard to break a 1-1 tie in the sixth inning, capturing a lead that would not be given up that day and tying the series at 1-1.  The next game, Baker’s top-of-the-ninth solo shot off the great Christy Mathewson tied the game and sent it to extra innings.  The Athletics would win 2-1 in the eleventh, taking a lead in the series that would not be relinquished. 

Connie Mack and the other owners of the A’s would reward Frank’s great play in that series by making him a part of the “$100,000 Infield”.  That recipe of spectacular homeruns, high salaries, and marvelous concrete-and-steel ballparks would later become the big money formula for big money clubs in a game that, from its earliest time, was driven by speed, guile, stratagem, and glovework. 

Baker would lead the American League in homeruns in 1911 (11), and go on to capture that prize again in 1912 (10, tied with Texan slugger Tris Speaker), 1913 (12), and 1914 (9), always ranking highly in the major offensive categories.  Eventually, Connie Mack refused to sustain Baker’s salary;  his contract was purchased by none other than the New York Yankees in 1916, for $37,500.  In 1921, Baker, aggrieved by the passing of his wife, hobbled by age, and probably disinterested in the growing glamour of the game, was still present enough to pass the homerun baton to Babe Ruth – who hit an unheard-of 59 homeruns that year (from the Baseball Almanac):

“I hope he (Babe Ruth) lives to hit one-hundred homeruns in a season.  I wish him all the luck in the world.  He has everybody else, including myself, hopelessly outclassed.”

In 1922, Frank left the game for good, remarried, and reset himself in the farm town where he was born – and where he would eventually pass on at the age of seventy-seven.

For more reading on Frank “Home Run” Baker, hit the Baseball Almanac link above and be sure to also check out The Dead Ball Era’s obituary page on him.

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Written by Ryan

March 13, 2010 at 7:00 am