Hobart Amory Hare Baker will be inducted into the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame Thursday night with a host of far more recognizable names - Dick Allen, Leroy Kelly, Tug McGraw, Jersey Joe Walcott, Mike Quick.
He will not be at the Sheraton Society Hill, of course. Hobey Baker died 92 years ago, at 26, test-piloting a World War I fighter plane in the rainy skies above Toul, France.
The remarkable resume he amassed in that brief lifetime reads like some early-20th-century hybrid of the Boy Scout Oath and a Jack Armstrong novel. An all-American athlete and a war hero, Baker was Pat Tillman without the ambiguities.
The Philadelphia native was muscular, blond, handsome, wealthy, brave, honorable, generous, and so athletic he eventually would land in both the Hockey and College Football Halls of Fame.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, who attended Princeton with him, borrowed Baker's gilded persona for This Side of Paradise, the novel whose main character, Amory Blaine, also bears his middle name. Princeton's hockey arena and NCAA hockey's version of the Heisman Trophy are named in his honor.
"Had Hobey Baker not existed," reads the jacket of Emil Salvini's biography, Hobey Baker: American Legend, "some clever wordsmith would have been compelled to create him." He's buried in West Laurel Hill Cemetery, where, not surprisingly nearly a century after his death, his grave site rests largely unnoticed among the grander monuments that loom like lonely specters above the Schuylkill.
Inscribed on his granite headstone is a poem by an anonymous author that captures the essence of Baker better than any of the hyperbolic stories written by contemporary sportswriters.
You seemed winged, even as a
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
Until they loved and called
you, and you came.
"Hobey was quite a contrast to today's me-first athletes," said Christo Morse, Baker's great-great-nephew, who will accept his award at the Philadelphia ceremony. "His perspective on sports and life was all about humility and focus."
Born to Bryn Mawr aristocrats in 1892, Baker was a descendant of one of Philadelphia's earliest and most prominent citizens, Francis Rawle, a Quaker who came here in 1686 and quickly earned both a civic reputation and a fortune.
The second son of industrialist Alfred and socialite Mary Baker, the child was named for an uncle, Hobart Amory Hare, who was the president of Jefferson Medical Hospital.
It quickly became apparent that the "winged lad" was a physical prodigy. He discovered hockey at 11 while he and his older brother, Thornton, were students at St. Paul's, an elite New Hampshire prep school.
As Sports Illustrated's Ron Fimrite noted in a 1991 profile, "There was no sport Hobey could not master. He was already a brilliant broken-field runner and kicker, as well as a fine outfielder. He was an accomplished gymnast, swimmer, and diver. He could juggle five balls. He could walk up flights of stairs on his hands. He was a fast sprinter, but he also excelled at cross-country running. He put on roller skates for the first time and within five minutes was doing stunts on one foot."
The profile added that one St. Paul's master had said Baker "had perfect control of himself and could bring every muscle of his body to bear at one time." But it was at Princeton, where his father had played football, that the legend of Hobey Baker was burnished.
Limited to two varsity sports by school rules, he became the captain of the football and hockey teams.
In those pre-NFL days, football at the elite Eastern schools was the epitome of the rugged sport. Scorning a helmet, quarterback Baker became a regular headline-grabber by leading the Tigers to the national championship in 1911. A year later he scored a school-record 92 points.
Sportswriters, enraptured by this young Philadelphian who seemed nearly too perfect, labeled him "the blond Adonis of the gridiron."
College hockey, though not as widely played, was unusually popular at Princeton. Because there was no campus facility, many of the Tigers games were played at St. Nicholas Arena in Manhattan, where Baker's presence attracted considerable fan and newspaper attention.
A New York Post sportswriter described the typical scene: "A line of limousines would stretch from Columbus Avenue to Central Park West on 66th Street. . . . Men and women went hysterical when Baker flashed down the ice on one of his brilliant runs with the puck. I have never heard such spontaneous cheering for an athlete as greeted him a hundred times a night and never expect to again."
Behind Baker, Princeton captured national hockey titles in 1912 and 1914.
He set school scoring records that stood for more than half a century. Maybe more astonishing, despite being the primary target of every opponent, he was called for just one penalty in his three varsity hockey seasons. After each game, win or lose, he made it a point to visit the other team's locker room and shake hands with each player.
Andrew Turnbull, a Fitzgerald biographer, noted that at Princeton, "varsity football players were looked upon as demi-gods, and . . . Baker loomed so high in the heavens that he was scarcely visible." After graduating, he continued with his storybook life, taking a job at J.P. Morgan & Co. on Wall Street and continuing to play hockey.
Aristocratic gentlemen like Baker didn't play professional sports in the early 1900s. But hockey legend Lester Patrick, who as a member of the Montreal Wanderers competed against him, noted that Baker would have been an immediate superstar had he opted for pro hockey in Canada.
Perpetually restless, Baker took to polo and began racing autos in his 20s. He also learned to fly, and when America entered World War I in 1917, he became one of its first fighter pilots.
A squadron leader with the famed Lafayette Escadrille, he downed at least three enemy planes, and the French awarded him the Croix de Guerre.
Four days before Christmas 1918, scheduled to catch a train to Paris that night for his return to America, Baker was test-piloting a balky Spad aircraft over Toul when it went into a tailspin and crashed. He died in the ambulance.
He was buried in the muddy French earth as his platoon mates fired three volleys into the gray skies and a tearful bugler played Taps.
Eventually, in 1921, his mother, by then divorced from his father, had the body moved to West Laurel Hill.
"I was hoping to visit his grave when I get to Philadelphia," said Morse, a filmmaker in New York who hopes someday to tell his famous ancestor's story on screen. "You almost can't believe that someone like him really lived. He's like some winged angel."
Here are the 2010 inductees for the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame:
Phil Jasner, Legacy of Excellence Award.
Lighthouse Boys Club, Lifetime Commitment Award.
Carlos Ruiz, Mark Herzlich, and Villanova's 2009 football national champions, Pride of Philadelphia Awards.
Bill Hyndman III
Jersey Joe Walcott