Hobart Amory Hare Baker was a charter member of the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1945, he was also enshrined in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, as well as the College Football Hall of Fame. Hobey is the only person to be inducted into both the hockey and college football halls of fame.
Arguably, the best athlete of his era, Baker starred on the gridiron and the ice for Princeton. Baker scored 92 points during the 1911 football season, which was a school record until 1974.
Hobey was a natural athlete, and he excelled at any sport he tried. It was on the ice rink that Baker really made a name for himself. During his three seasons playing “Rover” for Princeton (freshmen were not allowed to play hockey back then for the school), statistics were not kept but biographer Emil Salvini estimated that Baker scored over 120 goals and 100 assists, which would average out to 3 goals and 3 assists a game. He was an All-American three times in hockey, and led Princeton to two National Championships. He was also acknowledged as one of the cleanest player of his day. Sportsmanship was paramount. After each game, win or lose, Baker would visit the visitor’s locker room and shake each player’s hand.
Since Princeton did not have an ice rink of it’s own, they played in New York City at the St Nicholas Arena in Manhattan. By his senior year, Hobey had become a celebrity in NYC and Tiger hockey games became a social event. When Baker took the puck up the ice, the crowd would get on its feet and shout “Here he comes!”
Back in Hobey’s day, if a player was substituted, he could not come back on the ice for the rest of the period. This led to the Tiger’s starting line up, to often play the entire game. My favorite story of Hobey and his Princeton Tigers took place in 1914. Baker had three assists in a 4-1 win over Harvard at St Nicholas Arena, which gave Princeton the 1913-1914 Championship. The Harvard team substituted five players during the game, but every starting Tiger played the entire game. The next morning, Baker was challenged to a game against St Nicks, the semi-pro team in New York City. With several Tiger players already on the train home to Princeton, Baker accepted the challenge with the team down a man. Even short-handed, the Tigers won the game 2-1. Less than an hour after the St Nick’s contest, Princeton was once again challenged, this time by the U.S. Army Seventh Regiment. Down a man for the entire contest, and playing their third game in less than 24 hours, the short-handed Princeton club destroyed the Army club 4-0.
After graduation, Baker learned to fly and joined the action in France when the United States entered WWI. By August of 1918, Baker had been promoted and was commanding his own squadron. At the time of the armistice, Baker had three confirmed kills and had been awarded the Croix de Guerre from France and a citation for exceptional bravery from General John Pershing.
On December 21, 1918, Hobey received his orders to return home. He insisted on taking one last flight in his S.P.A.D. His men were mutinous over the possibility. One did not tempt the fates, they argued. One last flight, may be just that. When Baker went to his biplane, the mechanic told him that another S.P.A.D., which had been in for repairs with a faulty carburetor, was ready for flight. Baker insisted on taking the repaired plane up to make sure it was air-worthy, which caused further pleading by his men not to go in the air. Lt. Baker insisted, and he took off in the rain, leveled off at 600 feet, and the carburetor failed again, killing the engine. Baker chose not to crash land the plane, which the S.P.A.D. was particulary good at. Instead, he chose to try to make the airfield. With another 100 feet of altitude, Hobey probably would have safely landed the plane, but he didn’t have that altitude, and the plane nose dived into the earth.
Baker’s men pulled his body from the wreckage, and Hobey Baker died moments later in the ambulance. He was 26 years old.
“YOU SEEMED WINGED, EVEN AS A LAD,
WITH THAT SWIFT LOOK OF THOSE WHO KNOW THE SKY,
IT WAS NO BLUNDERING FATE THAT STOOPED AND BADE
YOU BREAK YOUR WINGS, AND FALL TO EARTH AND DIE,
I THINK SOME DAY YOU MAY HAVE FLOWN TOO HIGH,
SO THAT IMMORTALS SAW YOU AND WERE GLAD,
WATCHING THE BEAUTY OF YOUR SPIRITS FLAME,
UNTIL THEY LOVED AND CALLED YOU, AND YOU CAME.”
—The inscription on Hobey Baker’s tombstone…