Nothing says “Deadball Era” like a guy who averaged 10 home runs per year earning the “Home Run” moniker without even a hint of irony. In fact, the man they called “Home Run”- Frank Baker, shared a locker room with Babe Ruth in 1921 and 1922. Over the course of those two years, Ruth fell just two home runs short of Baker’s career mark of 96 home runs, including a then unheard of 59 in 1921. From Baker’s SABR biography written by David Jones:
Perhaps envious of Ruth’s fame, Baker bemoaned the “rabbit ball” that made the home run a more frequent occurrence. “I don’t like to cast aspersions,” Baker later confided to a reporter, “but a Little Leaguer today can hit the modern ball as far as grown men could hit the ball we played with.”
Despite the fact that, in Baker’s prime years, conditions did not allow for the gaudy home run totals that he would watch Ruth attain in later years, Baker was a bona fide slugger. He led the American League in home runs for four consecutive seasons – one of only four men in history to accomplish that feat.
Baseball lore suggests that Baker earned the nickname after he hit two key home runs in the 1911 World Series. While he did hit those home runs, the truth is that Baker actually earned the title before he hit his first official major league home run. A 1909 report attributed the nickname to Baker, with the following explanation:
Baker’s work has possibly been the most spectacular. On three occasions he has won close games with home runs, while his fielding inspires the belief that Mack will have the best man at the corner since the days when Lave Cross was good.”
Baker was ranked as the fifth best third baseman of all time by Bill James in 2001, enough to consider him a slam dunk in both the Half-Baked Hall and the real Hall, but it is possible that Baker could have been even better.
Baker sat out the 1915 season rather than continue to play for the same salary. He played some town ball during his year-long stare down with Connie Mack, but did not see major league pitching for 18 months. The numbers upon his return tell the story of a solid player – but nothing like he had been from 1912-1915. He was no longer the dominant player he had been, and slowly declined from there, playing out his final seasons with the Yankees.
Baker missed another full season of baseball in 1920. Though the decline in his numbers was already well established, the missed 1920 season likely took more of an emotional toll on Baker. Scarlet fever hit the Baker home, causing the death of his wife and near death of his two daughters. Initially Frank announced that he had lost his love of baseball, but ultimately after a time of grief and quarantine, returned to the Yankees to play the final two seasons of his career.