Al Baker

This article was written by Bill Nowlin

The Boston Red Sox have fielded four Bakers over the course of their history: Al, Floyd, Jack, and Tracy. Tracy Baker appeared in one game in 1911. Floyd Baker got into 102 games in 1953 and 1954. Jack appeared in 14 games, an even dozen in 1976 and two in 1977. Right-handed pitcher Al Baker worked in three games over 10 days in 1938.

Baker was a Mississippian, born as Albert Jones Baker on February 28, 1906, in Batesville. His father, Walter Baker, was a farmer who became a cottonseed buyer for a mill. He and his wife Lillian “Lillie” (Jones) Baker had four children – Milton (or Wiley), Evelyn, Kate, and Albert. Walter Baker died in May 1911. At the time of the 1920 census, Al was living in the household of his aunt Vickie Baker, Walter’s older sister and a retail milliner. Al grew up in Batesville, attending the local schools through high school.

Al spent several years working his way to the big leagues. First there was semipro ball, and he was in the New Orleans training camp of the Cleveland Indians in 1929. He was recommended to Frank Dessau by Larry Gilbert of New Orleans. Dessau signed him to a contract and sent him to Decatur.1

His first year in professional baseball was with the Decatur Commodores in the Class-B Three-I League. It was a good year, resulting in a 19-5 record with a 4.13 earned run average. The 5-foot-11, 170-pound Baker also could hit; he pinch-hit in the ninth inning of an August 15 game against Springfield, and hit a three-run homer to tie the game, which Decatur won in 11. On December 23, his contract was sold to Danville, part of the St. Louis Cardinals system.2

Baker began 1931 with the Columbus Red Birds, but was perhaps overmatched and spent the rest of the season with Danville. In 1932 he spent time with Danville, Denver, and Springfield (Illinois). In 1933, it was Springfield and, by late July, Omaha. At the end of December, new manager Gabby Street signed Baker to pitch for San Francisco's Mission Reds.

Just before mid-April 1934 Baker was unconditionally released. He pitched for a while for the Longview Cannibals in the Class-C West Texas League, but by September was with the Dallas Steers. That is where he settled in, working the 1935, 1936, and 1937 seasons for Dallas and winning 15, 12, and 13 games respectively, for the most part under manager Alex Gaston, who had taken over partway into 1935 and lasted into 1937.

He might have pitched better; before the 1937 season began, he was being referred to as "Hard Luck Al." The nickname stuck, and it came to the point that as the club was training for 1938, his wife asked writers to stop referring to him that way.3 He had a particularly tough time against the Oklahoma City Indians, beating them once in 1935 but then not again until July l938, which brought him to 2-13 against them.

Baker joined the Little Rock Travelers almost immediately afterward and then on August 14 was "turned over" to the Boston Red Sox, despite having given up 13 runs in the nine innings he'd worked in three appearances for Doc Prothro's Little Rock team.4 The Red Sox had announced his purchase the day before, for an "unrevealed sum of cash…The Sox figure he knows enough and has enough stuff to help them in the present emergency."5 (Lefty Grove's arm had gone "dead" in midgame on July 14, then he felt forced to leave the game abruptly after the second inning of the August 11 game against the Athletics.)


His major-league debut came on August 20 against Washington. The Red Sox won their fifth game in a row, but starter Archie McKain had struggled, allowing five runs in 5 2/3 innings and the Boston Globe's Gerry Moore wrote that McKain and Baker "nearly matched the opposing chucking in ineffectiveness."6 Baker worked two full innings, giving up five hits and two runs. He'd actually used only one pitch to close out the sixth, but on three successive pitches in the seventh, he gave up a home run to Zeke Bonura and two singles. He was bailed out of a far worse fate by a double play.

On the 26th, Bagby got hit hard by the White Sox and couldn’t finish the third; manager Joe Cronin beckoned Baker in. He came on and induced a double play. After giving up a leadoff single in the sixth, he was yanked. Four hits in all, and a walk.

Baker’s last action came in a game he entered on the 29th after it was Detroit 11, Boston 1. He pitched the last three innings and gave up four more. His ERA was 9.39.


He put up zeros in his four at-bats, and 1.000 in the two fielding chances he had. Baker returned to minor-league ball with the 1939 season. Still on a Dallas contract, he was sent to Minneapolis in time to start the season, but on May 8 was taken on option by the Nashville Vols. He was 11-9.

In 1940, he pitched for Knoxville and Chattanooga, a combined 4-14. And in 1941, his last year of baseball, he pitched for Knoxville, Vicksburg, and Natchez. He managed part of the season for Vicksburg.

Baker joined the United States Army Air Force in 1942 and served into 1945. After being mustered out, he married again, to Nell Butler, and became a farmer and rancher.

Baker died of chronic obstructive lung disease and cardio-respiratory failure on November 6, 1982, at Kenedy, Texas. He was survived by his wife, daughter Martene, and sister Evelyn. He is buried in the Butler Family Cemetery in Kenedy.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Baker's player file and player questionnaire from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, Bill Lee's The Baseball Necrology, and the SABR Minor Leagues Database, accessed online at Baseball-Reference.com.

 

Notes

1 Howard V. Mellard, "Commies Sell Baker," Daily Illinois State Journal (Springfield, Illinois), December 24, 1930: 12.

2 Ibid.

3 "Al's Wife Objects, Too," Dallas Morning News, March 18, 1938: 16.

4 "Al Baker Sent To Red Sox," Dallas Morning News, August 15, 1938: 3.

5 "Sox Buy Twirler From Little Rock," Boston Globe, August 14, 1938: B25.

6 Gerry Moore, "Sox Down Nats in Wild Battle," Boston Globe, August 21, 1938: B23.