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