Gene Baker

"Gene was as good a shortstop as I've ever seen — and that includes Pee Wee Reese." - Bobby Bragan, manager of the Hollywood Stars, rival of Baker's Los Angeles Angels in the Pacific Coast League.

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Negro Leaguer of the Month

September, 2009

Gene Baker

Born: June 15, 1925 in Davenport, Iowa
Died: December 1, 1999
Ht:6'-1", Wt: 175
Batted and threw right
Position: second base
Playing Years: 1948-1962
Teams: Kansas City Monarchs, Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates, Los Angeles Angels (minors), Des Moines Bruins (minors), Springfield Cubs (minors), Batavia Pirates (minors), Columbus Jets (minors)

A slick-fielding shortstop with a potent bat, Gene Baker was one of several Kansas City Monarchs to make the Major Leagues in the 1950s.

Baker grew up in Davenport, Iowa and was a great basketball player and track star. His high school didn't have blacks on their high school baseball team, so Baker didn't play organized baseball until he joined the Navy in 1943.

In 1947, Baker was a star infielder for the St. Ambrose University Fighting Bees of his hometown of Davenport, Iowa where he joined another future Major League star, Jim Finnigan. Finnigan stayed one for year, but Baker jumped at an offer from Kansas City Monarch's manager Buck O'Neil to play shortstop, and was a member of a fantastic team that featured future Hall of Famers Hilton Smith and Willard Brown, as well as Elston Howard, Wild Bill Wright, and Connie Johnson.

Baker batted .293 in his rookie season, then played one more year before being signed by the Chicago Cubs and being assigned to their farm club, the Des Moines Bruins of the Class A Western League. The Monarchs recovered by replacing Baker with a shortstop named Ernie Banks.

Baker batted .321 for the Bruins in 49 games in 1950 and was promoted to the Springfield Cubs of the International League, then finally the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League where he finished the '50 campaign by hitting .280. Baker spent three more seasons with the Angels, batting .278 with 11 homers in '51, .260 with 15 homers in '52, and .284 with 20 homers in '53.

In '53, Baker was part of one of the most famous brawls in minor league history when the Angels and Hollywood Stars slugged their way through a double header that featured beanballs, spikings and a 30-minute fight that took 50 policemen to break up.

Baker (on the bottom) fights with a Hollywood player

At the end of the '53 season, Baker was called up to the Cubs where Ernie Banks was also getting a cup of coffee in the Big Leagues, the first two black players in Cubs history (Baker, who played his first game on September 20, 1953, was the first black player on the Cubs' roster; Banks was the first black player to play for the Cubs, first playing on September 17, 1953). The Cubs couldn't play both men at shortstop, so Baker was turned into a second baseman.

In 1954, Baker won the starting second base job, Bank was named the starting shortstop, and the two youngters, nicknamed "Bingo" and "Bongo" because of their hard hitting, formed the first black double-play combo in Major League history. Baker batted .275 with 30 doubles, five triples and 13 homers, and Banks batted .275 with 19 homers.

In 1955, Baker and Banks both played all 154 games, Baker batted .268 with 11 homers, and Banks batted .295 with 44 homers and 117 RBIs. Both players made the All-Star team.

After a fine '56 season in which Baker batted .258 wtih 12 homers, Baker was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates during the middle of '57. Baker's stay in Pittsburgh was a roller-coaster as he shuttled back and forth to the minors trying to recover from injuries, and won a World Series ring with the '60 team when Bill Mazeroski hit a walk-off homer to beat the Yankees.

In 1961, Baker spent most of the season as player-coach with the Batavia Pirates of the New York-Penn League. Baker batted .387 with eight homers, and was one of the first black coaches in Organized Baseball history.

In '62, Baker was player-coach with the Columbus Jets of the International League, and in '63 Baker became the second black coach in Major League history (the Cubs' Buck O'Neil beat him by a few months) when he joined the Pirates staff.

When the Pirates manager, Danny Murtaugh, was ejected from a game in September, Baker filled in as manager for two innings, the first black to manage a Major League game.

Baker became a scout for the Pirates in 1964, and continued for 23 years.

Baker died in 1999 from a heart attack.


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