Before there was Babe Ruth and the Yankees, the 1910 Athletics set the standard for which all Philadelphia baseball teams are based. That was the season Connie Mack guided Philadelphia to four trips to the World Series in five years, capturing three championships. In ’10, the A’s rolled over the Cubs in five games, six games over the Giants in ’11, a five-game victory over the Giants in ’13 before it came to an end in four games to the Braves in 1914.
The first dynasty of baseball history came to a crash landing in 1915 when Mack sold off his great players or they jumped to the upstart Federal League as the A’s spent the next seven seasons in last place.
Could you imagine what we would have written and said about Mack in this day and age if he sold Home Run Baker, Eddie Collins and Chief Bender to make a little cash though it meant a decade in the second division? That would be like David Montgomery being told by the Phillies’ partners to dump Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Roy Halladay in order to line the team’s coffers.
Strangely, Mack chose to sell out when his core group of stars were just coming into their primes and it’s not far-fetched to think that the Philadelphia Athletics and the Philadelphia Phillies could have played in the 1915 World Series. The first two games would have been played at the Baker Bowl on Broad and Huntingdon in North Philly, packed up the gear after the games, and walked down Lehigh for five blocks to Shibe Park.
Forget a subway series; Philadelphia could have hosted the Lehigh Avenue series.
Anyway, over the next few months we will write about the 100 years since Philadelphia started baseball’s first dynasty. Look for some stylings about the 1910 Philadelphia Athletics here over the next few months. We’ll revisit the “Deadball Era” where Frank “Home Run” Baker hit just two homers in 1910, but he led the league the next four straight years with totals of 11, 10, 12 and 9.
So here’s a little slice of the Deadball Era for the Digital Age.
Frank “Home Run” Baker
To just look at the stats, it seems like a joke. A guy with 96 career home runs and a season-high of 12 and they called him, “Home Run,” is like calling a bald guy, “Curly.”
But until Babe Ruth came around, Frank “Home Run” Baker was as big a slugger as any in the game. After all, this was an era where until Ruth hit 29 homers in 1919 (as primarily a pitcher), the single-seasin record for the past 35 years had been 27.
Besides, Baker didn’t get his nickname because he led the American League in homers for four straight seasons, a feat matched only by Ruth and A’s teammate (and Philly city councilman), Harry Davis. He was called “Home Run” because of two homers he hit during the A’s reign atop the baseball world.
First at Shibe Park in Game 2 of the 1911 World Series of Hall of Famer Rube Marquard, followed by another off the great Christy Matthewson at the Polo Grounds in Game 3, Baker’s homers in back-to-back games were the decisive blows in the A’s six-game victory over the New York Giants.
And as far as clutch performers during the Deadball Era, Baker was a veritable Mr. October. In the A’s World Series victories in 1910, 1911 and 1913, Baker batted .409 with three homers and 16 RBIs. Oddly enough, Baker’s on-base percentage in the 1913 World Series was lower than his batting average, but he still had a 1.077 OPS during his first 16 appearances in the Fall Classic, not that anyone in baseball had any inkling about advanced metrics.
Nevertheless, Baker, along with Stuffy McInnis, Eddie Collins, and Jack Barry, formed Connie Mack’s famed, $100,000 infield in which Baker was the oldest of the bunch at 24 in 1910. With a well-paid quartet of ballplayers not quite in their athletic prime, it’s understandable how the A’s won the World Series three times in four seasons and made it to the World Series four times in five years.
If only Mack could have kept them together…
When the upstart Federal League formed in 1915 and attempted to sway major leaguers with high salaries, Baker didn’t jump. Instead, he honored the three-year, $20,000 deal he signed with Mack with a clause that allowed him to quit after the 1914 season. Still, because Baker made $10,000 in the final year of his contract and was due a raise since he was coming off his fourth straight year of leading the league in homers while finishing in the top 10 in runs scored, hits, doubles, total bases, extra-base hits and RBIs. But Mack and the A’s could no longer afford the high salaries of the $100,000 Infield and began selling off players. Before the 1916 season, after sitting out in 1915, Baker was sold to the Yankees.
But Baker really could never quit playing. He never battled Mack over salary because the way he saw it, he got paid more playing baseball than he could from farming. As a result, when Baker “sat out” in 1915, he ended up playing for an amateur team in Upland, Pa. in the Delaware County League. He returned to play for Upland in 1920, skipping the major league season after the death of his first wife.
Regardless, Baker just might be where the stereotype of the slugging third baseman came from. Raised on a farm in Maryland’s eastern shore in a town called Trappe (two hours southeast of Washington, D.C.), Baker was a strong, lefty pull hitter who used a 52-ounce bat. There are mixed reports on his glove work, and he made 35 errors in 146 games during the 1910 season as well as 51 over the next two seasons, but that was overlooked because he batted better than .334 from 1911 to 1914, and led the league in RBIs in two straight seasons beginning in 1912 when he had 130.
As his career wound down in the early 1920s, Baker was a bench player with the Yankees where the home runs were hit by Babe Ruth.
Mostly, Baker was a quiet man and popular with the Philadelphia sports fans. Mack liked him, too, even though he gave him up before the 1916 season. He loved baseball, too, but not more than his farm in Maryland. Though he managed in the minors for a couple of seasons, Baker preferred spending time in Trappe where he could duck hunt near the Chesapeake Bay, work for the local bank and fire company, and tend to his asparagus plants.
He also is credited for “discovering” another eastern shore Hall-of-Famer, Jimmie Foxx, and enjoyed participating in old-timers games and signing autographs. When asked about playing during the time of Ruth instead of the Deadball Era, Baker figured he would have adapted quite well to the newer game.
“I'd say fifty,” he said when asked about how many homers he would hit. “The year I hit twelve, I also hit the right-field fence at Shibe Park thirty-eight times.”
In 1955, Baker was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee, and said: “It's better to get a rosebud while you're alive than a whole rose garden after you're gone.”
He lived eight more years, dying at age 77 in 1963.
 The $100,000 Infield adjusted for inflation would come to approximately $2.2 million in 2010. That’s roughly the average major league salary now.