1910: J. Frank Baker

Frank Baker

John Franklin Baker was born in Maryland in 1886. He played baseball well enough that Connie Mack brought him to the Philadelphia Athletics in 1908. The next season he took over as the regular third baseman and stayed there through 1914. During his tenure the A’s won four pennants and three World Series championships. During the period Baker hit .321 and led the American League in home runs four times (1911-14) and in RBIs twice (1912 and 1913). As good as all that sounds, he was even better in World Series play. In three winning efforts (1910, 1911, and 1913) he hit .409 with three home runs and drove in sixteen runs. His slugging percentage was .621. In 1914, the Braves shut him down, along with pretty much everybody else, and the A’s lost. The three home runs in Series play tied or won ballgames and led to his nickname “Home Run” Baker. 

Baker sat out 1915 in a salary dispute with Mack. He spent the season playing in a semipro league in Pennsylvania. At the end of the season, Mack sold him to New York. He did alright with the Yankees, but he was never as good as he had been with Philadelphia. He hit .300 once, had double figure home runs twice (10 both times) and saw his slugging average drop badly. 

In 1920 his wife died and he took the season off to be with the children. He was back in New York in 1921 in time to make it to the World Series again (I was unable to find out if he remarried or not).  In 1921 he managed nine home runs to finish third on the team behind Babe Ruth’s 59 and Bob Meusel’s 24. The Yankees lost the series to the Giants with Baker contributing two hits (both singles) for a .250 average. His ground out to second with one out the ninth inning of the final game was turned into a double play when the runner on first, AaronWard, tried to steal a run by dashing to third. The throw to third was on target and the series ended. In 1922 he played one final year, hitting .278 in 69 games. He got into the World Series going 0 for 1 in a pinch hitting role. For his career he ended up with a .307 average, 1838 hits, 96 home runs, 1013 RBIs, on OBP of .353, a slugging percentage of .442, 235 stolen bases, and six triple crown titles in 5985 games, all at third base (except for pinch-hitting duties). 

After retirement he coached and managed a little. He’s credited with discovering Jimmie Foxx. He retired to his farm in Maryland and made the Hall of Fame in 1955. He died in 1963, arguably the finest third baseman of the deadball era. 

As a fielder, Baker was both good and mediocre (bear with me a second on that). His 3.43 range factor compares well with fellow Hall of Famers Brooks Robinson and George Kell, but his fielding average is nothing to write home about. In his prime years, 1909-14, he was generally in the lower half of the league in fielding, but made up for it with decent range. One of the things I like about his fielding is that he got better. He started with fielding averages in the .920s and ended his career in the .950s. OK, those aren’t great numbers, but a lot of guys never get any better and Baker did. 

He has two number that I really like: 24 and 36. Those are the distance between his RBI totals in 1912 and 1913 and his nearest competitor. In 1912, Baker knocked in 133 runs. Sam Crawford at Detroit and Duffy Lewis at Boston each had 109 (Helps to have Eddie Collins, Ty Cobb, and Tris Speaker hitting in front of you, doesn’t it?) In 1913, he had 126. The next two guys behind him (again a tie) had 90. You don’t see that kind of domination often. In 1930, Hack Wilson set the Major League record for RBIs with 191. He won by 21. The following year Lou Gehrig set the AL record with 184. He also won by 21. Both Chuck Klein and Mickey Mantle won triple crowns. Klein won his RBI title by 14 and Mantle by only two. 

During his glory years, 1910-1914, Baker joined Cobb and Speaker as the dominant hitters of the age. And I guess that’s part of the knock on Baker. His glory years weren’t very long. But in those five years he won six triple crown titles (batting average, home runs, RBIs). So did Cobb. Speaker only got one. It’s not a bad legacy to say you could hold your own with Cobb and Speaker, even if only for five years. 

There haven’t been a lot of truly great third basemen in Major League history. In the Deadball Era there are only Baker and Jimmy Collins and I prefer Baker. With our without the nickname, Frank Baker is one of the top 10 third basemen ever and I could probably be talked into putting him in the top five.

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2 Responses to “1910: J. Frank Baker”

  1. V.E.G. Says:

    John Franklin Baker got the name Home Run at the very year William Patrick Stuart-Houston was born (1911).

  2. verdun2 Says:

    True.
    welcome aboard.
    v

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