Year Inducted: 1955 (Veterans Committee)
Some nicknames make full sense. Usually a shortening of a player’s first or last name, or something depicting a player’s size. Big Mac was used as a nickname for several players, including Willie McCovey and Mark McGwire. Kiki Cuyler’s nickname came from shortening his last name to its first syllable. Other nicknames like Hammerin’ Hank come from a player’s on-field exploits. The most infamous one is the nickname that Frank Baker got for hitting two home runs in the World Series one year, “Home Run” Baker.
Baker’s exploits in the World Series aside (and it isn’t like that has ever gotten a player induction before), he was a feared hitter in the Dead Ball Era. In 13 seasons with the A’s and Yankees he hit .307/.363/.442 for a wRC+ of 134. He may have only hit 96 home runs, but also clubbed over 300 doubles and 100 triples en route to driving in 987 runs and scoring 887 times. He led the AL in homers three times, with a career high of 12. That may not seem like a lot but between 1901 and 1922, only 4 players were able to eclipse the century mark in career home runs, and most of them either played in a tiny park (Gavvy Cravath in the Baker Bowl), were the best player ever (Babe Ruth) or played more often in the 1920s (Cy Williams and Tilly Walker) than Baker did. While obviously not setting the career home run record, he certainly was a feared slugger, wielding a large 50+ ounce bat to mash line drives all over the field.
Along with his hitting exploits, Baker was also a gifted base runner and fielder. He managed to steal over 200 bases in his career, and was worth 83 runs defensively at third base. He was obviously a star player, and seems like he should have had a stronger case for induction. So, what happened?
Well, to be honest, it always seems disingenious when people say that players today are too concerned with money compared to other generations. There have been many players, especially from older generations, already covered on this list that would hold out for every last cent. Baker was no exception, missing his entire age-29 season due to contract disputes with Connie Mack. When he returned after being sold to the Yankees, he wasn’t the same player. While still a solid hitter, he wasn’t the league-leading masher that he had been in previous seasons. He also had to miss another year in 1920 due to an outbreak of Scarlet Fever that claimed his wife, and nearly claimed his children. Of course, 1920 was the transition year for baseball, going from a hit and run style in the Dead Ball Era, to the homer-happy Babe Ruth years. When Baker got back, the game had, unfortunately, passed him by and he retired as a part-time player following 1922.
In his day, he was probably the top third baseman in the game. Baker hit for power, stole bases and fielded well. Unfortunately, he wasn’t on the field enough to rank higher on this list.
Stay tuned for the next update.
On deck, 9/6/16: The first pitcher from the 4th generation, who primarily pitched after the mound was lowered and before the steroid era, is covered. He used his knuckleball to win over 300 games and strikeout over 3000 men.