Jesse Baker

Jesse Ormand Baker was born June 3, 1888 in a log cabin on Anderson Island and his family moved to Steilacoom before his teen years.

Jesse was playing baseball in the City League when then-manager Mike Lynch of the Tacoma Tigers of the Northwestern League, saw him pitch at the old College of Puget Sound grounds, now the site of Jason Lee Middle School. Baker fanned 18 in that game and Lynch hired him on the spot-no bonus and not much pay. Jesse started his pro career with a two-hit shutout and had a fine season finishing 10-14 with the Tigers. Baker was 10-23 with Tacoma before being traded to Spokane with a month and a half left in the 1909 season. Despite 14-26 record Baker still led the Northwestern League with 249 strikeouts.

Trading Baker was a mistake because 1910 was Jesse's best year as he compiled a record of 28-10 with the Indians. Not only that but he led the league with 227 strikeouts, games pitched in with 45, and innings pitched with 335 1/3 innings. He also tossed seven shutouts and on June 14 he drove in the winning run and fanned 15 to beat Tacoma, 2-1, in 15 innings.

It was during that season that Jesse became known locally for his "Iron Man" feat in a series against Tacoma in which he pitched a total of nearly 47 innings in four days. He defeated Tacoma 4-1 with a two-hitter on a Friday afternoon and was given the day off. However, on Sunday he pitched both ends of a double header, the games going nine and 12 innings. Then on Monday Baker was called in for relief in the third inning and proceeded to pitch 16 2/3 innings before Spokane won 5-1 in the 19th. All in all, Jesse racked up 46 2/3 innings of hurling in a four-day span.

During the off-season, the following assessment of Jesse's blossoming career appeared in the local newspaper on February 13, 1911 as penned by Charles Dryden who wrote, "Steilacoom Jess is 23 years of age, nearly six feet tall, displacement of 168 pounds, bats, eats and throws left-handed, married and the father of one child, stole on base in 1910, can sleep in an upper berth if necessary, played last year with Spokane and batted .187, is sober, industrious, devoted to his family and a credit to any league."

He continued, "Mr. Baker's best fooler is the Fog Ball, developed early in life along the shores of Puget Sound. This masterpiece comes up softly and stealthly, like the fog at early dawn, dissolves before the noonday sun and passes the batsman at a given point somewhere between his nose and belt. The said batsman never sees it at all, any more than the mariner can observe a fog where it is not.; this Fog Ball certainly should bring home the kale to Mr. Baker. Nothing to it."

"To keep himself in condition this winter, the ambitious Jesse cleared 16 acres of land one and a half miles from Steilacoom. Until a fellow gets a peek at rough land in these parts he can gain but a dim idea of Mr. Baker's training system. From daylight till dark Jesse pulls up large fir stumps with his left hand, chops trees, rolls logs and does other light exercise. To preserve his control of the Fog Ball he sails clam shells at hell divers in the Sound. That mysterious something the southpaw puts on the ball is imparted to the clam shells and it is said more than one hell diver broke its neck trying to dodge the missiles," reported Dryden.

At the end of the 1910 season Pittsburgh offered $4,500 for him but the Indians opted in favor of a $3000 bid and two ballplayers from the White Sox-a deal reportedly the biggest in Northwest baseball history up to that time.

On March 31, 1911 White Sox President Charles Comiskey announced that, "I have wired President J.P. Cohn of Spokane that the deal for Baker is closed and I am sending my check for the balance of the purchase price of $2000 offered last summer for the Spokane boy. Baker looks like the most promising pitcher any minor league club has picked up in years. His work yesterday was simply phenomenal."

Jesse reported to the Mineral Wells, TX training camp of the White Sox the following February, pitched briefly and was promptly promoted by Manager Hugh Duffy to the regulars. Duffy liked Baker's big windup and follow-through from the rookie as well as his control and forkball and was optimistic about Jesse's major league future.

Duffy, however, was too optimistic and Baker major league career never materialized. As soon as the hot weather hit the Midwest, so different from cool Anderson Island, Baker broke out with a serious case of "prickly heat", spoiling his only major league season. The club kept him around for two full seasons hopeful that the top prospect would become acclimated but he never did and the "prickly heat" never stopped bothering him until he crossed the Rockies, heading for home.

On Sept. 26, 1911 the Tacoma Daily News reported that, "two Tacoma boys are destined to make good in the major leagues in the opinions of major league experts in the East." Charley Dooin [a former catcher for the Philadelphia Phillies] was quoted as saying that "it won't be too long before Bert Hall's "fork ball" will have the National League batters at his mercy and Billy Sullivan [White Sox catcher] is firm in his belief that Jesse Baker is gong to make good with a vengeance in the American."

The Daily News continued, "Word comes from Chicago that Jesse has changed his entire delivery and that he now looks like a renovated piece of pitching machinery, with brand new wind-up and all. Any time Jesse drops back into his old delivery it will bring forth a "belch" from Sullivan. "Cut it out, Jesse" he will shout and the Steilacoom flinger will immediately get back into his new stuff again."

Jesse received $2400 a season with the Chisox and he also picked up about $900 as his share of the annual White Sox-Cubs City Series. During his second year with Chicago, Baker begged management to sell, trade or reassign him and so a deal was arranged for him to join the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League.

Baker played well for the Seals as a pitcher and a pinch-hitter and finished the 1912 season with a 12-15 record. There was one memorable game in 1913 with Oakland leading the Seals 6-2 in the ninth when Baker was sent in to pinch-hit with the based loaded. He hit a grand slam home run to tie the score and then pitched the rest of the way, leading San Francisco to a 7-6 victory over the Oaks. The papers carried a big picture of Jesse on page 1 superimposed over Market Street and retouched street signs to read Baker Avenue. He finished the season with an 11-13 record and a .421 batting average.

Baker finally convinced the Seals to ship him back to Spokane in 1914 but the ballclub was unable to pay him so he returned to Tacoma and finished the 1914 season with the Tacoma Tigers under manager Joe McGinnity, who eventually would land baseball's Hall of Fame.

He worked for the Terry & Baker Real Estate and Wood & Coal Company in 1919 and later as a logger for the Aloha Lumber Company. Baker died at the age of 84.