COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – In the context of today's game, the statistics don't seem to agree with the nickname.John Franklin Baker hit just 96 round-trippers in his 13-year big league career – yet was known as "Home Run Baker" for most of his 77 years. But no handle ever fit a player more snugly than this.
Ninety-six years ago this week, Home Run Baker took his talents to the Yankees – a team where Baker would team with Babe Ruth to help make the home run a part of the American lexicon.
Baker was born March 13, 1886 in Trappe, Md.. He broke into pro ball in 1908 with Reading, Pa., of the Tri-State League, and by the end of that year was playing with Connie Mack's Philadelphia A's after the Tall Tactician purchased Baker's contract.
The next season, Baker became the starting third baseman in what was eventually labeled the "$100,00 Infield" – featuring Stuffy McInnis at first base, Eddie Collins at second base and Jack Barry at shortstop. Baker led the American League with 19 triples in 1909, then – using an uncommonly heavy 52-ounce bat – led the league in home runs each year from 1911-14. His top single-season total during that stretch was 12 home runs, but in the "Dead Ball Era" – where a single ball was often used for an entire game – Baker's power output was impressive.
It was in the World Series, however, where Baker captured national attention. In the 1911 Fall Classic against the Giants, Baker homered in Game 2 off future Hall of Famer Rube Marquard in the sixth inning to break a 1-1 tie and give the A's a 3-1 victory. The next day in Game 3, Baker hit a solo shot against future Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson with one out in the ninth, tying the game at 1. The A's went on to win the game 3-2 and eventually captured the Series 4-2.
The A's returned to the World Series in 1913, and Baker added another home run in Game 1 to help Philadelphia win the game and later the championship. But following the 1914 season, Baker – who had two years remaining on a three-year contract – quit the A's to go home to his farm in Maryland.
"I simply did not like traveling around the country, being away from home so much," Baker said. "Connie said I could quit if I wanted to."
At first, Mack refused to even consider the possibility of trading Baker.
"No amount of money would induce us to sell him," Mack said.
But after Baker sat out all of the 1915 season, Mack relented – and sold Baker to the Yankees for $37,500 on Feb. 15, 1916. Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert immediately negotiated a new contract with Baker, and for the next four seasons Baker became the Yankees' everyday third baseman.
But following the death of his first wife, Baker sat out the entire 1920 season to care for his two daughters. That year, Ruppert brought Babe Ruth to the Yankees – and Ruth proceeded to re-write the record books with an astounding 54 home runs that year. Baker returned to the Yankees for two more seasons in 1921 and 1922, then retired for good – returning to his farm. He managed minor league clubs near his home, discovering future Hall of Famer Jimmie Foxx and recommending him to Mack and the A's.
Baker spent the rest of his life in Trappe, earning election to the Hall of Fame in 1955. He passed away in Trappe on June 28, 1963.
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum