While more famous for being part of the Philadelphia A’s $100,000 infield and baseball’s original dynasty lead by Connie Mack, today’s hitter of yesteryear is Frank “Home Run” Baker. He was probably one of the strongest players in the league as noted by his use of a very big bat; a 52 oz. tree trunk!
On August 8, 1919, as part of the original “Murderers’ Row” of the New York Yankees he lived up to his nickname. On that day he went 2 for 3 with 3 RBI, a walk and of course a home run. It was a three run shot in the bottom of the 8th inning that put the game out of reach. It was his 10th of the season, and it helped power the Yanks to a 6-1 victory of the St. Louis Browns. Interestingly, it was his last home run of the season.
His total of 10 home runs would have led the league earlier in the dead ball era, when he won four consecutive Home Run titles, yet the highest single season total was only 12. 1919 was the second time he hit 10 homeruns for the Yanks, and that was good enough for a tie at second place — only 19 behind “The Babe” who hit 29 that season. The Yankees did lead the American League with 47 home runs in the friendly confines of the old Polo Grounds. Being caught in the transition between the dead ball era and the live ball era of the 1920’s, he was quoted as saying , “I don’t like to cast aspersions but a little leaguer today can hit the modern ball as far as grown men could hit the ball we played with.”
Born in rural Eastern Shore Maryland, he first broke in with the old Eastern League Baltimore Orioles in 1907. He, however, failed to impress the team’s manager, Jack Dunn, who stated “he could not hit.” Years later his teammate and fellow Hall of Famer, Eddie Collins is quoted as saying, “When it came to hitting, Baker needed help like Carnegie need money.” Baker retired with a .307 lifetime average. Last year, on August 18, 2013, he was honored by the NLBM “All-Frank” team in conjunction with the inaugural Heart of American Hot Dog Festival compiled by Joe Posnancki and Sam Mellinger.
In 1915 during his contract dispute with Connie Mack he defied the old man and played in the low minor league independent Peninsula League. By then with three World Series wins and four home run titles Frank was a local hero and many local teams were so delighted to have him play at their fields they held “Home Run Baker Days” and presented baseball’s first slugger with gifts of appreciation.
In a remarkable coincidence of a symmetrical career, Baker hit 96 home runs, 48 each for both A’s and Yankees. With his acquisition from the cash starved Philadelphia A’s in February of 1916 for the princely sum of $37,500 the Yankees’ strategic approach and appetite for buying (or to pay large free agency salaries) fan friendly home run hitters starts with Home Run Baker nearly a century ago.
Sources: SABR Bio report by David Jones Baseball-reference.com, Baseball Hall of Fame, Baseball-Almanac.com and http://nlbm.mlblogs.com/tag/orioles/; photo credit by fromdeeprightfield.com, list of greatest offensive third basemen.