This article was written by Bill Nowlin
June 19, 1911, was Trace Baker’s debut in professional baseball, and the last day of his playing career. So it would appear. And he didn’t really do anything wrong, but he wasn’t invited back to play again.
Baker played for the Boston Red Sox that day, for manager Patsy Donovan. The Red Sox were in New York, playing the Highlanders (a couple of years before they took on the name Yankees). Boston was 28-25 on the season, in fifth place, eight games behind the league-leading Detroit Tigers and only percentage points behind the Chicago White Sox. New York was a game and a half above them in the standings.
The Red Sox might have been in a bad mood. They’d been in third place a few days earlier, then dropped three in a row to the Cleveland Indians at Boston’s home Huntington Avenue Grounds. Baker had been signed to a contract with the Red Sox, one that was first announced in the May 14 Boston Globe. He was a first baseman playing for a college team in Spokane, Washington – not exactly next door, but team owner John I. Taylor seemed to have a penchant for West Coast players at the time, a century ago. In fact, Baker played for the University of Washington baseball team. He was expected to join the Red Sox once college got out on May 20.
The Globe reported that Taylor “wants to have it stated that Baker is not coming to take the place of [Alva “Rip”] Williams, who has been making good with a vengeance, but rather to have a promising young man on hand, and he could not pass up such a promising player as the Pacific coast boy is.”i Taylor seems to have attracted a good sum, an offer reported by the Seattle Times as $2,000 for the season. The Seattle paper said that the “husky young giant” was “boosted by Bill Hurley, the gingery coach of the Washington team. Tim O’Rourke, the old big leaguer who now lives here, also tried to land Baker for the Philadelphia Americans. … Tacoma also offered Baker $300 per month. … Baker is a hard hitter and he is getting better around first base every day.”ii The Philadelphia Athletics’ Connie Mack was said to have sent Baker a telegram saying he would offer more than the Red Sox had, but by then Baker had signed with Boston.iii
He joined the Red Sox in Washington at the end of May.iv
But come mid-June, Williams wasn’t hitting well and neither was the team in general; they were in a “batting and fielding slump.”v When the the Red Sox set out on the road, manager Donovan left four players home – Carrigan, due to a minor finger injury, and Williams, Moser, and Collins.
Taylor was in New York and watched the game on the 19th from a private box. Smoky Joe Wood was on the mound for the Red Sox, and he’d shut the New Yorkers out twice in one series the last time he’d faced them in New York. It was presumably a moment Baker had looked forward to. He started the game at first base, batting seventh in the order.
Trace Lee Baker had been born on November 7, 1891, in Pendleton, Oregon. His father, William, was a second-generation Missourian who had moved to Oregon and met his wife, Catherine, there. In 1900 William worked as a “stock-raiser,” in Pendleton, presumably. Trace’s grandfather Thomas had established a farm there as early as 1870. By 1910, the year before Trace made the majors, William Baker was more simply listed as a farmer. Catherine worked out of the house as a seamstress. Trace was 6-feet-1 and was listed as 180 pounds. He went through the Pendleton schools and then had two years at the University of Washington.
There was a report that Baker had actually played professionally as early as 1908, when he was 16 years old, for a Class D team in Pendleton, presumably the Pendleton Pets in the Inland Empire League.vi
In the game for the Red Sox, Baker recorded four putouts at first base over the first two innings, while the Red Sox built up a 4-0 lead. He’d handled all four chances cleanly. At the plate, his first plate appearance was a sacrifice and helped in the three-run second. Heinie Wagner had walked to lead off the inning, the Red Sox up just 1-0 at the time, and Baker sacrificed him to second. Les Nunamaker then hit a ball to the left of the shortstop, John Knight, but the ball struck Wagner so the sacrifice had been somewhat in vain and – with Wagner out – there were two down and a man on first. Joe Wood was up and he hit a ball hard down into Hilltop Park’s right-field corner, an easy double, scoring Nunamaker from first. Then Harry Hooper followed with an inside-the-park home run over right fielder Harry Wolter’s head, with Hooper sliding across the plate to make it 4-0.
Baker’s record doesn’t show it, but he must have looked quite green on the field. Veteran sportswriter Tim Murnane wrote, “Baker looked good until he played Wagner’s fast throw in poor form, failing to show any knowledge of good work.”vii It must have been a pretty egregious failure since Murnane wrote, “(A) yell from the Boston players caused manager Donovan to make a quick change” and he brought in Clyde Engle to finish the game at first. What were the players so upset about? We don’t have advantage of video replay, but not only was Baker yanked from the game, he was never given another chance, even in a blowout 11-3 win just two days later, on June 21.
The throw from Wagner was fired so hard and fast from short that Baker couldn’t handle it and the ball shot all the way to the stands. He wasn’t actually charged with an error (the Boston Post’s Paul Shannon called it a “savage throw”), but apparently the other players were vocal in their complaint.viii
The Boston Journal was the most forgiving of all. It offered an image of what happened, but also acknowledged that his was a “neat sacrifice” and that “he looks as if he might be as good as Williams some day.” But we do begin to understand what the yelling was about. “Baker demonstrated that his feet needed training. … [He] nearly butted Cree’s head off in the third, taking the throw on the wrong side, and he had given himself the foot on a throw from Heinie, falling flat, the ball rolling to the bleachers.”ix
Baker wasn’t pulled on the spot. He played through the bottom of the third inning, but was replaced before his next time at bat. Boston won the game, and Smoky Joe Wood notched another victory. He was on his way to a 23-17 season. The Red Sox were on their way to a 78-75 year and a fourth-place finish. Tracy Baker had had his day, though.
It’s perhaps a bit ironic – or at least overly optimistic – that the Seattle Times had written back in May that Baker “stands an excellent chance to stick in the big show, for he is young and has the size and is getting shiftier on his feet with every game. And he surely can slap that horsehide when he lands right. If he can pickle the pill, he will stay, and the big leaguers will give him time to develop in other departments of the game.”x
Baker doesn’t even show up in any minor-league statistics, before or after his time with the Red Sox. He was, for at least a while, on the roster of the Brockton Shoemakers (New England League) later in 1911. A brief note in Sporting Life said, “For Hendrickson and Lonergan, the Red Sox gave White, the Princeton pitcher; Giannini, the California college infielder, and Baker, the Northwestern first baseman.”xi He doesn’t seem to have played for Brockton. The September 16 issue said that he “will go back to one of the teams in the Northwestern League.” The publication confirmed a September 8 story that Taylor had wired Bob Brown of the Vancouver Beavers that he was sending Baker back to the league, but subject to recall to Boston in 1912.xii And indeed he’s seen in a September 23 box score, batting second (he was 0-for-3) for Vancouver, with a sacrifice and a stolen base. He had no errors attributable to shifting feet, or anything else.
Baker had entered a claim against the Red Sox for compensation. On November 16 the National Commission, then baseball’s ruling body, found that Baker’s claim against the Red Sox held merit and ruled that he be awarded back salary in the amount of $523.28.xiii
In 1912 the Red Sox moved into brand-new Fenway Park, which they must have hoped would last them longer than the 11 years they’d played at the Huntington Avenue Grounds. We were at first unable to find any indication that Baker ever played baseball again, but he is found on the reserve list of the Winnipeg club at the end of the 1912 season. The Grand Forks Herald of September 4 does refer to Tracy Baker, the hard hitting first baseman” and that is surely the same man.xiv SABR researcher Kent Morgan was able to find some mentions in the Winnipeg Free Press during the course of the season, referring to “Baker” but (as was often the case in the era) not providing Baker with a first name. “An early season report seemed to indicate that Baker was an experienced player, but did not say where he had played,” reports Morgan, adding that later reports say he was the team’s cleanup hitter and played first base, second base, and right field.xv The Winnipeg Maroons season ended on September 2. Grand Forks and the Maroons played a split doubleheader, morning and afternoon, in Winnipeg with the visitors winning both games. The losses knocked Winnipeg into last place, at 50-59, in the four-team Central International League. Baker placed first base in both games.
In November 1913 Baker married Nellie Jane Colvin.
We don’t know a lot from that time a century ago. Baker served in the US Army doing ordnance work from November 1917 to February 1919. In 1920 he was living in Pendleton with Nellie, working as a laborer on a farm, and in 1940 he was living in Sausalito, California, in Marin County as a truck foreman in highway construction, with his mother, Catherine, and second spouse, Lillian Ann Johnson; they had married in September 1929.
During the Second World War, Baker was living in Mill Valley, California, and working in the Kaiser Shipyard in Richmond. He reportedly retired after 35 years working in construction. Looking back on his career in baseball in completing his player questionnaire for the Hall of Fame, he was asked, “If you had it all to do over, would you play professional baseball?” His response: “I think so.”
Baker died of heart failure in Placerville, California, on March 14, 1975 at the age of 83.
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 Baseball Necrology, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com. Thanks to Kent Morgan for researching Baker’s year in Winnipeg in 1912.
i Boston Globe, May 14, 1911.
ii Seattle Times, May 6, 1911.
iii The Oregonian (Portland, OR), May 14, 1911.
iv Boston Journal, June 20, 1911.
v Washington Post, June 19, 1911.
vi Seattle Times, May 24, 1911.
vii Boston Globe, June 20, 1911.
viii Boston Post, June 20, 1911.
ix Boston Journal, June 20, 1911.
x Seattle Times, May 9, 1911.
xi Sporting Life, August 11, 1911. The same day’s Pawtucket Times made the trade more explicit.
xii Seattle Times, September 8, 1911.
xiii Philadelphia Inquirer, November 17, 1911.
xiv Grand Forks Herald (Grand Forks, ND), September 4, 1912.
xv E-mail from Kent Morgan on December 6, 2012.