Hobey Baker as Hockey Superstar and Popular Culture Celebrity!
He captained the Princeton Tigers hockey team to national championships in 1912 and 1914. He was a celebrity of the “times” with the St. Nick's Hockey Club in
As he would take the puck behind the Princeton goal and set fly on one of his rink-long rushes, the crowd would yell, ``Here he comes!'' When he continued his amateur career with the St. Nick's Club in
It was reported that Baker was offered a contract by the Montreal Canadians of the National Hockey League Association while he was still with the St. Nicholas Club. He turned down an offer of $20,000 to play three seasons. He likely turned it down because it was against social conventions for a person of his standing to play sports for money.
In addition to extraordinary skills as a hockey player he was a great sportsman. He only had one penalty in his entire hockey career and always visited the opposition dressing room after the game to extend a handshake and congratulations on a good game!
When the Hockey Hall of Fame was founded in 1945 he was one of the twelve initial inductees. He was also in the initial class of inductees into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 1973. Today their is a major collegiate award in his name.
Hobey Baker Memorial Award - 30th Anniversary in June, 2011
The Hobey Baker Memorial Award is awarded annually to the best College hockey player in the
. This year marks the 30th Anniversary of the awarding of the Hobey Baker Memorial Award. For more on this award including award criteria and the memorial foundation go to: Hobey Baker Memorial Award Foundation United States
Hobey Baker as Aviator: Hobey Baker Inspires Other Tiger Hockey Stars to Become Aviators
Princeton in 1914, he lacked a calling, but eventually found the same kind of thrill in being a fighter pilot.
Baker volunteered to be a pilot in the war. This inspired other hockey players to become pilots in WWI. The November 17, 1917
St. Petersburg Times ran this headline and story: Hobey Baker Inspires Other Tiger Hockey Stars to Become Aviators. So many of the star Princeton hockey players joined they were forced to suspend their hockey program that winter. The hockey men universally chose aviation. He was used at first as a flight instructor and only late in the war saw combat when he was sent to the front as a fighter pilot.
Baker's Death: Aviation Accident or Suicide?
However, there is a sad and controversial end to this hockey and aviation story. Baker died in an airplane crash! There is always a lingering question when it comes to Baker's death; Did He Take His Own Life?
The 2005 biography of Baker called Hobey Baker: American Legend, by Emil Salvini engages the question of suicide but does not take a definitive stance.
Having survived the war, Baker had his papers to return home, but the air force captain decided to take a recently-repaired plane for a last test run. The plane's engine failed, and he nose-dived into the ground, dying at the age of 26. Salvini's biography is the first to definitively engage the question of whether or not Hobey Baker attempted suicide, a theory which dates back to French journalists of the era. Adam Wodon
On March 18, 1991, writing for Sport Illustrated, Ron Fimrite wrote a great article on the troubled life of Hobey Baker called, A Flame That Burned To Brightly: Hobey Baker, the golden boy of American sport before World War I, found little worth living for beyond the playing fields of Princeton
In this article Fimmrite addresses the last flight in the context of Baker possibly taking his own life:
In December he received his orders to go home. But to what? On the 21st, the day he was scheduled to leave on the night train for Paris, he told his incredulous comrades that he would take "one last flight in the old Spad." This violated both tradition and superstition. "One last flight," in pilot's lore, was feared to be just that. But Hobey was the commanding officer, and though his subordinates protested vigorously, he would not be dissuaded.....
His last symbolic gesture would now be made in a borrowed and possibly defective plane. He had placed himself in double jeopardy.
The Spad, for all of its faults, had one redeeming feature when it was in trouble: It was easy to crash-land. Hobey himself had crash-landed in rugged terrain only a month before. But this time he did not try for the forced landing. Instead, he acted as if he were trying to bring the stalled plane back to the air base.
Hobart Amory Hare "Hobey" Baker (January 15, 1892 – December 21, 1918)
With funds contributed by his Princeton friends and admirers from many other colleges,
For more on hockey and suicide go to our hockeyhistory.org post: Hockey, Suicide and Suicide Prevention
For more on aviation and hockey go to: Aviation and Hockey Part I Aviation and Hockey Part 2
References and Resource Links:
Baker Memorial Rink by John Davis, from Alexander Leitch, A Princeton Companion, copyright Princeton University Press (1978).
Hobey Baker Inspires Other Tiger Hockey Stars to Become Aviators, St. Petersburg Daily Times, November 17, 1917
Hobey Baker: American Legend: A conversation between the books author Emil Salvini and managing editor Adam Wodon of the College Hockey News, April 29, 2005
Ron Fimrite (1991) A Flame That Burned To Brightly: Hobey Baker, the golden boy of American sport before World War I, found little worth living for beyond the playing fields of Princeton, Sports Illustrated.
Falla, Jack (2008) Searching for Hobey Baker, in Open Ice: Reflections And Confessions of a Hockey Lifer, John Wiley & Sons Canada, Ltd.