WhenItWasaGame.net: Gene Baker, Along With Ernie Banks, Broke Color Line for Chicago Cubs in 1953

By  //  June 15, 2018

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first black player signed by the Chicago Cubs

COLORLINE PIONEERS: Cubs shortstop Ernie Banks, left, and second baseman Gene Baker check out a shipment of bats. Banks’ strong showing at the end of 1953 forced Baker to changed positions. They were the first African-American double-play combination in the major leagues. (Image courtesy of Chicago Tribune, 1955)

MEMBER OF THE BOOMING BATS OF THE 50s

BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – WhenitWasaGame.net and Space Coast Daily honors baseball color line pioneer Gene Baker on the anniversary of his birthday 93 years ago today.

Baker, who died in 1999 at age 74, was the first black player signed by the Chicago Cubs and joined Ernie Banks in breaking the color barrier for Chicago in 1953. Baker, who debuted with Banks as the Cubs’ double-play combination during the 1953 season, was a former Kansas City Monarch and an all-star shortstop in the Pacific Coast League.

With Banks at shortstop, Baker was switched permanently to second base in 1954. As a shortstop stuck playing second base, Baker led National League second-sackers in errors his first three seasons. But, he had excellent range — and was a solid offensive contributor to a powerful Cub line-up that included fellow “Booming Bats of the 50s” Randy Jackson, Hank Sauer and Ralph Kiner, as well as Banks.

He finished his career with a .265 lifetime average and was a National League all-star in 1955.

Baker and Banks played together until 1957 when Baker was traded to the Pirates — along with Dee Fondy — for Dale Long and Lee Walls. Early the next season, he injured his knee. He missed all of 1959 and played only a few games in 1960-61 before turning to coaching and scouting for the Pirates.

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In 1961, Baker became the first African-American manager in Organized Baseball when the Pirates named him skipper of their Batavia Pirates farm club in the New York–Penn League.

In 1962, he became the first black coach in Organized Baseball when the Pirates named him player-coach of their Triple-A International League affiliate Columbus Jets. In 1963, the Pirates promoted him to coach on the Major League team. He was the second black coach in the big leagues, following Buck O’Neil by a half-season. Baker then spent many years as a scout for the Pirates.

BOOMING BATS OF THE 50s: CUB ROOKIE Gene Baker used this bat in a series with the Cardinals in July of 1954. In the first game of that series, he almost single-handedly destroyed the Redbird pitching staff with four hits: two singles, a two-run homer, and a game-winning RBI double in the 11th inning that sealed the 6-4 win for the Bruins. Baker went on to have a very solid season, hitting .275, and, teaming with fellow Cub rookie Ernie Banks, made up what many thought was the best keystone combo in baseball.
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GENE BAKER: Did you know…

…Baker was an all-state basketball player in Iowa in 1942 and 43. He also ran track in high school, clocking a 10-second flat 100-yard dash.
…Baker began his Major League baseball career on September 20, 1953, with the Chicago Cubs. The 28-year-old played for eight seasons on two different teams and ended his big league playing career in 1961.
…Baker became the starting second baseman for the Cubs in 1954, hitting .275 with 13 home runs and 61 RBI. In 1955, he played in 154 games, hitting .268 with 11 home runs and 52 RBI.
…Baker finished his major league career with the Pirates in 1961. He missed the entire 1959 season, but returned near the end of the 1960 season and had three at-bats in the World Series win against the Yankees.
…Baker was a manager in the Pirates’ farm system following his playing career. In 1961 he was named manager of the Batavia, N.Y. minor league team. In 1965, he returned to Davenport and worked for the Pirates as the chief scout in the Midwest for the next 23 years.
…Baker was born June 15, 1925, in Davenport, Iowa. He died on Dec. 1, 1999, in Davenport, Iowa, following a heart attack at age 74.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Discovering a true treasure of game-used bats that had not seen the light of day for 40 years led to a labor of love involving many hours of research on each player represented in the collection. We recognized the unlimited interactive potential to not only share our stories but to also hear from the millions of baseball fans who still remember when it was a game. THE REDISCOVERY of the BOOMING BATS OF THE ’50s provided a platform from which to share our stories and passion for our national pastime, and When It Was a Game.

Gene Baker was the first black player signed by the Chicago Cubs and joined Ernie Banks in breaking the color barrier for Chicago in 1953.
Gene Baker, who debuted with Ernie Banks as the Cubs’ double-play combination during the 1953 season, was a former Kansas City Monarch and an all-star shortstop in the Pacific Coast League.
Gene Baker finished his major league career with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1961. He missed the entire 1959 season, but returned near the end of the 1960 season and had three at-bats in the World Series win against the Yankees.

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