Kent Baker

Long­time Baltimore Sun sports re­porter wrote more than 8,000 by­lined ar­ti­cles dur­ing the course of his ca­reer

Baltimore Sun - - OBITUARIES - By Fred­er­ick N. Ras­mussen Baltimore Sun re­searcher Paul McCardell con­trib­uted to this ar­ti­cle. fras­mussen@balt­sun.com

Kent Baker, a for­mer Baltimore Sun sports re­porter whose by­line was fa­mil­iar to read­ers for more than four decades, died Sun­day of lung can­cer at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Tow­son. He was 73.

“Kent was a very per­son­able guy and al­ways a plea­sure to work with,” said Sey­mour Smith, a re­tired Sun sports­writer and ed­i­tor. “As a re­porter, he’d take any as­sign­ment. He was not a prima donna. He’d cover the Colts one day and a high school game the next day. And you al­ways got a top-notch story.”

“He could do any­thing and was great at it,” said Sandy McKee, a for­mer Sun sports de­part­ment col­league and re­porter.

The son of Archie Ken­ton Baker and Wanda Wa­ters Baker, Don Ken­ton Baker was born and raised in Sharps­burg and grad­u­ated in 1960 from Boons­boro High School.

As a child, Mr. Baker dreamed of be­com­ing a news­pa­per­man, and after earn­ing a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in 1964 from what is now Shep­herd Univer­sity in Shep­herd­stown, W.Va., he be­gan his ca­reer in the sports de­part­ment of the Her­ald-Mail in Hagerstown.

Drafted into the Army in 1966, he served with an in­fantry unit in Viet­nam. He fought in the his­toric Tet of­fen­sive, said his wife of 33 years, the for­mer Betty Grooms.

“He didn’t speak much about his days in Viet­nam,” she said.

After leav­ing the Army in 1968, Mr. Baker re­turned to the Her­ald-Mail as ex­ec­u­tive sports ed­i­tor. He­worked there for two more years un­til join­ing The Sun’s sports de­part­ment in 1970.

“Kent came off a small pa­per with a three-man sports de­part­ment,” said Bob Maisel, for­mer Sun sports ed­i­tor and colum­nist. “I wound up hir­ing all of them. He was just a damn good news­pa­per guy.”

In Hagerstown, he knew ev­ery as­pect of the sports scene and was al­ways on top of ev­ery­thing, Mr. Smith said. “That’s what you learn on a small pa­per.”

Mr. Baker never used his first name and em­ployed “Kent Baker” as his by­line.

In ad­di­tion to cover­ing the Ori­oles and Colts, he fol­lowed the Naval Acad­emy, Univer­sity of Mary­land, Preak­ness, steeple­chase races, the Blast, lo­cal high school sports and even bowl­ing.

His range of knowl­edge was wide and varied — and noth­ing was ever unim­por­tant.

“He did what­ever he was asked to do and al­ways did it with a smile,” Ms. McKee said. “He had so much en­ergy, and he was fun and al­ways good-hu­mored.”

She re­called one in­stance when Mr. Baker was as­signed to cover a na­tional bowl­ing tour­na­ment in Baltimore but was snow­bound at his Har­ford County home.

“He couldn’t get to town, so he watched it on TV and then went into his home of­fice, made some calls to the par­tic­i­pants, and then wrote and filed his story,” she said. “He was ded­i­cated to his craft, and he worked hard at it.

“Like all re­porters, we all like to com­plain, but he loved it,” Ms. McKee said. “He had strong ethics, no axes to grind, and peo­ple loved be­ing in­ter­viewed by him. He could charm peo­ple, and they liked talk­ing to him.”

Ms. McKee joined the sports de­part­ment in 1976, the first woman in that de­part­ment since World War II.

“Kent im­me­di­ately be­friended me, and years later, I was the ‘ best man’ at his wed­ding to Betty,” she said.

Ms. McKee, who re­tired in 2012, de­scribed Mr. Baker’s writ­ing style as “newsy but pretty straight, but he could sneak in a lit­tle hu­mor. It was al­ways very read­able, and he could keep the at­ten­tion of the reader. It was a great gift.”

She also re­called that Mr. Baker cut a dap­per fig­ure in the news­room with his rugged good looks, stylish jack­ets and with open-col­lar shirts.

He had a well-earned rep­u­ta­tion of look­ing out for new hires.

“Kent was like a brother. He took me­un­der his wing when I was just a young, im­pres­sion­able high school stu­dent,” said Michael Reeb, a for­mer Sun sports copy ed­i­tor and colum­nist.

“He was also a men­tor. It was in­spi­ra­tional see­ing him climb up the ranks, cover­ing Mary­land foot­ball and bas­ket­ball as well as the Ori­oles,” he said.

An Abing­don res­i­dent, Mr. Baker re­tired in 2007 but kept work­ing as a sports free­lancer un­til 2013, when his last by­line story — cover­ing the Grand Na­tional tim­ber race — ap­peared in The Sun. “The day couldn’t have turned out bet­ter for owner Irv Nay­lor. And it wasn’t too shabby for jockey James Slater, ei­ther,” he wrote in the story’s open­ing para­graph.

At the time of his re­tire­ment, Mr. Baker had writ­ten more than 8,000 by­lined ar­ti­cles.

He also found time to write two books, “Thor­ough­bred Rac­ing” and “Red, White and Amen: Mary­land Bas­ket­ball.”

He was an avid col­lec­tor of stamps and lot­tery tick­ets, and liked at­tend­ing thor­ough­bred races, golf­ing and watch­ing the Ori­oles on TV, his wife said.

Todd Holden, a for­mer Aegis re­porter and pho­tog­ra­pher, played golf with Mr. Baker oc­ca­sion­ally at the Hil­len­dale Coun­try Club.

“When we fin­ished the round, he quipped: ‘ Like when you play base­ball, throw strikes, work fast, go home early.’ I never for­got that and learned later on that it wasn’t an orig­i­nal from Kent, just one of the many clas­sics he’d re­call and share,” Mr. Holden said. “Still, I as­so­ciate that quote with him, and it al­ways re­minds me of the lit­tle time I had with him.”

A cel­e­bra­tion of Mr. Baker’s life will be held at noon Fri­day at the Schimunek Funeral Home, 610 W. McPhail Road, Bel Air.

In ad­di­tion to his wife, he is sur­vived by a niece and a nephew. Kent Baker “was ded­i­cated to his craft, and he worked hard at it,” a for­mer col­league said.

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