"Home run" Baker[1886-1963] about 1914 when he played for the Philadelphia Athletics
NOTE: After leading the American League in home runs from 1911 thru 1914 and helping the Philadelphia Athletics win the 1910, 1911 and 1913 World Series, Baker wanted his contract renegotiated. Manager Connie Mack refused and Baker announced his "retirement" to play with Upland in the Delaware County Baseball League. A little help from the Crozer Family helped. Baker's decision created national headlines and lots of stories.
The Home Run Baker Affair
J. Borton Weeks, president of the Delaware County League of Baseball Clubs, has cleared the atmosphere surrounding the controversy concerning J. Franklin Baker and his baseball status, which has been interesting the enthusiasts for months, leaving them rather mystified as to the real case of the trouble. In a statement issued yesterday, Mr. Weeks has covered the case at length, giving the details and reasons which have kept Baker from playing with the Athletics and his reason for playing with the Upland Club of the Delaware County League. The statement throws new light on the case and is virtually a vindication for Baker.
MR. WEEKS’ STATEMENT – Mr. Weeks’ statement is as follows: “The published stories of the retirement of J. Franklin Baker from major league ball and the question as to his right to play one game a week with the Upland Club of the Delaware County League, have been so many and contradictory as to impel me to make known the true history of the case. The facts, as I state them are based largely on interviews with Connie Mack and Baker. One of these conversations with Mr. Mack took place at Shibe Park on May 6th and the other on May 8th in North Philadelphia Station. Baker and Manager Miller of Upland were present at the latter occasion.
THE AGREEMENT – In January 1914, at a time when the Federal League was at the height of its activity in signing National and American League stars, Connie Mack went to Baker’s home in Trappe, Maryland, for the purpose of signing him to a three-year contract. Baker at first refused to sign for a three-year term, stating that 1914 would be his last season in the major league. Mr. Mack finally persuaded him to sign the contract, but only after it was expressly agreed verbally between them that Baker would not have to play after 1914 unless he wanted to.
Baker’s only reason for signing for three years, instead of one was, to ensure Connie Mack that he would not go to the Federal League should be change his mind and decide to play after 1914, and he only signed with the very plain understanding that he would not have to play after 1914 unless he wanted to. At the time of Mr. Mack’s visit, Baker’s old contract had expired and as the hero of the 1913 World Series he had been offered by the Federal League a contract with most alluring figures – an amount far in excess of what he signed for with the Athletics. Mr. Mack is reported to having stated recently that at the time he signed Maker in 1914, the Federal League was not a factor. A glance at the newspaper files for that and the preceding month or two will show conclusively that his recollection in this respect is incorrect. At the Delaware County League banquet on January 21, 1914, just a day or so after Baker signed. Mr. Mack recognized the Federal League as a decidedly live issue and made it one of the most prominent subjects of his speech on that occasion. (See Chester Times and Morning Republican, January 22, and Philadelphia papers January 23, 1914.) President Ebberts of Brooklyn who had accepted an invitation for the same affair, reached Philadelphia on the day of the banquet in a state off physical exhaustion, as a result of a strenuous Southern and Western trip of ten days or more for the purpose of signing up Brooklyn players to keep them from the Federal League and it was on the very day of the banquet that Business Manager Shetts had arrived in Philadelphia with Kilger in tow, having succeeded in getting him from the Federal League. It will be seen from these facts that the Federal League was a very big factor and causing a great deal of worriment at the time.
That Mr. Mack agreed before Baker signed that he would not be required to play after 1914 unless he desired to play after 1914 unless he desired, and that without this understanding Baker would not have signed, are uncontroversial facts. Mr. Mack admitted this frankly to me at Shibe back on May 6th, and again in the presence of Baker, Manager Miller and myself on May 8th. He made the statement publicly to the 400 guests at the Sporting Writers’ banquet on February 16th of this year. The Philadelphia Record’s report of what he said at the time is as follows:
Last spring I proposed to him that he sign for three years. This he finally consented to do, but with stipulation that he would be privileged to retire from the game if he wished to after the season of 1914. Baker has been talking about retiring for several years, but not until this time has he positively declared that he will quit. He feels that he does not have to play ball for a living any longer, and says he has grown tired of traveling around the country as ball players have to do. Baker haws a couple of valuable farms and also considerable money, and since he has decided to retire, I can only wish him the best of success. He has been a credit to baseball in every way, and having lived a clean life, I see no reason why he should not live long and prosper.”
The Philadelphia Press (February 17th) says:
“In order to protect myself and the club I signed Baker to a three year contract, but before the home run hero would sign he had this proviso inserted, ‘if at any time I shall desire to quit the game, that I can do so and will not be blacklisted.’ Well, as I had made seven or eight trips down to his farm in Maryland, I concluded that that was the best thing AI could do and I then signed him for three years. Baker is going to retire to his farms. Frank has accumulated quite a little money during the last eight years. He has been saving his money and now he is the owner of two big farms in the vicinity of Trappe, Maryland, has money invested in other business, and has a little sum in bank. He is tired of the game, and is sincere in his desire to sever connection with baseball.”
It will be seen from the above that Mr. Mack frankly admits that according to the verbal agreement entered into prior to the signing off the contract. Baker did not have to play after 1914 unless he wanted to. This was as binding a moral obligation as could be entered into between man and man, and Connie Mack’s recent statements that Baker is a ‘contract breaker,’ by reason of his retirement from the major leagues and playing one game a week with a semi-professional club is in direct conflict with Mr. Mack’s own agreement, the existence of which he frankly admits.
GROUND FOR REFLECTION – “During the middle of the 1914 season when the decision declaring invalid the “ten day clause” in the player’s contracts was handed down, the major league clubs immediately began signing their players to new contracts without this clause. A number of the members of the Athletics club refused to sign the new contracts without an additional money consideration and the cub acceded to their demands. At that time Baker voluntarily went to Mr. Mack and offered to sign under the same conditions without the ‘ten day’ clause, and without any additional consideration. This incident speaks for itself.
BAKER’S RETIREMENT – On February 8th, 1915, Baker wrote Connie Mack stating that he would not play this year and announcing his retirement from major league ball. Connie Mack immediately replied (the original of which reply is in my possession) as follows:
Yours of the 8th inst. received, and am naturally a little surprised to find that you intend not to play ball the coming season. I remember quite well of your saying that you might not play after this season, but did not take it seriously, as I supposed it was like the majority of players, who make this announcement annually, but still continue to play the old game of baseball. I myself would not want anyone, neither would I force upon anyone of my players to do something that they ought not to do, or that they don’t feel like doing. I see no reason why you should not continue to play baseball, but I realize that I am not supposed to know your business, and of course it is wholly up to you as to whether you play the coming season or not. I feel that you must have been perfectly satisfied with your contract, otherwise you would not have signed it, as it was not forced upon you. If I am wrong in this matter, and you feel that you should get more money for playing baseball, then I am willing to make some concessions, not as far as our Club is concerned in paying a larger salary, for we are not in position to do that, as we are now paying more than we can possibly take in at the gate, so it is out of the question, with us as far as paying any higher salary than we are paying at the present time. If the salary is what is keeping you from playing, you might let me know what amount of salary you would want, and the Clubs that you would prefer to play with in the American League, as you probably are aware, I disposed of Collins for the reason that we could not handle the salary. As you have always been satisfied, I sort of feel that it is not more money that you are looking for. That you are sincere about not playing baseball. I would like a reply from you before giving out any news relating to you’re not playing. It is always a bad thing to give out a statement about a player not playing unless it is absolutely right that the player does not intend to play any longer. For the Public begins to think that there must be some difference in the salary question. They can’t see the player giving up what they term easy money, so I wish you would get right down to business with me, and express yourself as to just how you feel in this matter. If you are to retire and that is your wish, you can rest assured that I will not make any further attempt to attain your services for the coming season.
With very best wishes to Mrs. Baker and yourself, I remain,
(Signed) Connie Mack.”
To this letter Baker replied that he had retired from major league ball, and stating his reason to be that he was tired of the road and desired to spend the summer on his farms in Maryland. It is interesting to note that subsequently Connie Mack retracted the offer to trade Baker, although this is unimportant as Baker did not ask to be traded.
CONNIE MACK GAVE BAKER PERMISSION TO PLAY LOCAL BALL THIS YEAR – On the day of the opening game of the American League season in Philadelphia, Baker went to Shibe Park and at that time had a private interview with Mr. Mack. He had previously been approached by the Upland club of the Delaware County League and told them that although it was optional with him whether he played ball this season or not, he would not play local ball without Mr. Mack’s consent. On that day he asked Mr. Mack if he had any objections to his playing local ball and Mr. Mack replied that he had no objections, provided he did not play in Philadelphia. Mr. Mack immediately and willingly gave his consent on the question being asked and did not inquire as to where Baker was to play. If Mr. Mack replied that he had no objections, provided Mr. Baker did not play in Philadelphia. Mr. Mack immediately and willingly gave his consent on the question being asked and did not inquire as to where Baker was to play. If Mr. Mack had asked, Baker would unquestionably have told him that he had been approached by Upland, although of course he had not accepted Upland’s offer, at that time, having refused to negotiate with them until after he had seen Mr. Mack, and consequently did not then know for certain where he would play. Mr. Mack afterwards told me that he would not have given Baker his consent to play if he had known he might have played in the Delaware County League as we had existed so many seasons and were so thoroughly organized that he considered us what he called a “regular league.” He admitted very frankly, however, that he had given Baker his permission to play local ball so long as he did not play in Philadelphia, and that he had not taken the trouble to inquire whether Baker had in mind to play in any particular place, or, in fact, for any further information.
LEGAL ASPECT OF CASE – Two features of the Baker case have a very important effect upon its legal aspect: (1) The oral agreement between Mr. Mack and Baker entered into before and including the signing of the three year contract to the effect that Baker did not have to play after 1914 unless he wanted to; (2) the permission which Mgr. Mack gave Baker on the day of the opening game of the American League this season to play local ball “so long as he did not play in Philadelphia.”
(1) A very recent decision by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania places the effect of the contemporaneous oral agreement in a very clear light. In Potter v. Grimm 248 Pa. 440 (1915), Mr. Chief Justice Brown said:
“That parole evidence is admissible to show a verbal contemporaneous agreement upon the faith of which a written instrument was executed, even though such evidence may vary on change the terms of the same.”
And further expressed the opinion that to permit the literal enforcement of a written agreement and exclude such oral agreement inducing its execution would be to commit a fraud upon the person thus induced to sign. It is too well settled in Pennsylvania to require any elaborate citation of authorities that a verbal agreement inducing the execution of a written agreement and made immediately before the written agreement is entered into, becomes thereby a part of the written contract just as though expressed in it. From this it is apparent that the agreement between Mr. Mack and Baker, that Baker did not have to play after 1914 unless he wanted to, is an operative provision of the contract just as incorporated in it in writing.
(2) Even leaving out of consideration entirely the effect of the contemporaneous oral agreement at the time of signing the contract, the permission which Mr. Mack gave Baker on the day of the opening game this year to play local ball so long as he did not play in Philadelphia has a very important legal effect. This permission amounted to a pro tanto waiver of any contract that may have existed between Mr. Mack and Baker so far as local ball outside of Philadelphia was concerned, and even if there had been no contemporaneous oral agreement that Baker did not have to play ball after 1914, the effect of this permission would have been such as to prevent the Athletic Club from enjoining Baker from playing local ball outside of Philadelphia.
While it is apparent that Baker is well bulwarked from a legal standpoint in his right to play with Upland, he would not be playing there today unless he had equally as complete a moral right to do so. A fair reading of the facts as above stated – and the material facts in the Baker case are not in dispute – shows how thoroughly justified Baker is in his present position. Our attitude would be very different if the situation were at all analogous to the facts of Philadelphia Ball Club vs. Lajoie, in which a binding contract was deliberately broken and the decree of the Supreme Court openly defied. Lajoie being traded to Cleveland and being compelled to stay out of the state for a year or more in order to avoid arrest for contempt of court.
THE PRESENT SITUATION – The present situation may be summarized as follows:
1. Baker’s retirement from major league ball is due to his desire to live on his farms and to his aversion to being away from home for months at a time, as he is compelled to be when playing.
2. His retirement is not due to the fact that he was dissatisfied with his salary. Mr. Mack expressed some concern to me over the fate that the public might gain the impression that Baker was not treated right by the club in a financial way, and that a certain article in the baseball magazine would lead to that impression. Baker has said that in spite of his objection to playing major league ball, if a figure of such a size was offered him that he could not afford to refuse it he might then play. He said, however, that he never expected to be offered any such figure as he had in mind. I am authorized to say for him however it is positively not the money question which is keeping him from playing major league ball.
3. In spite of his desire to remain home, Baker is willing to return to the Athletics at once under the old salary, under two conditions: (1) That Connie Mack publicly denies or retracts all reported statements supposed to have been made by him to the effect that Baker is a contract breaker; and (2) cancel the old contract and enter into a new one for this season at the original terms and thus prevent a recurrence of the present controversy next year. In addition to this he is willing to sign an agreement to the effect that if he should change his mind and play major league ball next year it will be with the Athletics. Baker could only be induced to return under these conditions, and then merely for the purpose of bringing to an end the present controversy which is distasteful to both him and Mr. Mack.
4. Baker’s contract with the Upland Club of the Delaware County League is such that he is free to go with the athletics as any time he sees fit.
CLARKE GRIFFITH’S STATEMENT - Of all the distorted and incorrect statements of the Baker case, none can compare with the recently reported interview with Clarke Griffith of Washington. Among other things he termed Baker as “money mad.” I respectfully submit the following questions to Mr. Griffith for answer:
1. Was Frank Baker money-mad after the 1913 World’s Championship when he turned down an immense weekly salary with a theatrical company merely because he preferred to return to his home in Maryland?
2. Was Baker money mad when he signed his last contract with the Athletics at a much less figure than the amount the Federal League had offered him?
3. Was Baker money mad in the middle of the 1914 season when the ten day clause was declared invalid and he voluntarily went to Connie Mack and offered to sign a contract at the same terms without any additional money consideration, while a number of other players on the Athletics demanded and received more money?
4. Was Baker money mad when he refused Connie Mack’s offer in February of this year to trade him to some other club in the American League and asked him to name his own figure?
5. Who was money mad when, after a number of successful seasons and the building of a magnificent park, released and traded some of the biggest stars of the club merely to reduce the payroll after one poor season?
The above statement is issued with my approval and over my signature.
President Delaware County Baseball League