John Baker Snr
Place of birth
Gheringhap, VIC (3331)
State of origin
Jack Baker Jnr (Son)
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A centreman recruited from North Geelong via Geelong College, Jack Baker was the outstanding Carlton player of the 1880s and one of the stars of the VFA in that decade. He appears on almost every list of contemporaries’ greatest players and is reckoned by famed umpire Ivo Crapp (speaking in 1914), and legendary coach Jack Worrall (1923) to be among the top three footballers they ever saw.
Strong, pacey, balanced and possessing all the skills needed to make a complete footballer, Baker was the consummate professional. He was also an innovator. In that respect, Worrall had this to say of him: "He had the knack of turning, what may be termed, the wrong way, a most disconcerting habit, and was the first man to exploit the value of handpassing". He was also known for hitting the ball over an opponent who came at him front on, only to swoop around and recollect the sphere at the first opportunity.
From the moment he joined Carlton in 1882, it was clear to supporters that they had gained, from under Geelong's noises, a player of superior quality, and it was no surprise that he became their favourite during a somewhat frustrating decade for the club as a whole. Carlton had been a powerhouse through the late 1860s and in the 1870s, but by the 1880s was struggling to regain their exalted place among the champion clubs, with no top two finishes between 1880 and 1886.
Finally, in 1887, success came, as the Carltonians overcome reigning premiers Geelong to claim the VFA title on the basis of the proportional points system then in vogue. Jack Baker, as one of the outstanding players of the season, was a driving force behind the victory. In that year, the Age newspaper wrote of him:
"[Baker] has long been the beau ideal of a football player. Cool, decisive, game, and with plenty of staying power, and invariably playing the game in a fair and manly spirit".
Carlton faded somewhat the next season, notwithstanding a noteworthy performance against the touring British Lions rugby team against whom Baker shone, but in 1889, after taking over control of a pub in Geelong, Baker crossed to the Pivotonians and it was there he played out his career, retiring in 1892. A solid performer, there was no doubt, however, that his best years were behind him. His association with Carlton remained strong in the public mind long after his playing days were over.
Author - Adam Cardosi