Wheeler Baker inducted to state Athletic Hall of Fame
GLEN BURNIE — Powerboat racing champion Wheeler Baker of Chester was inducted into the Maryland State Athletic Hall of Fame on Thursday evening, Nov. 3. Baker, a former Queen Anne’s County Commissioner and Maryland 36th District Delegate, was the sixth native Marylander representing powerboat racing in the Hall of Fame’s 57-year histor y. He was inducted along with five others from different sports.
Baker gained a love of boat racing at the young age of 8. His late grandfather Ralph B. Baker and father Albert Baker both owned successful powerboats when Wheeler was a child. His father put Wheeler in his first boat, “a little outboard,” when he was 10. Wheeler raced in the “Wildcat Race” held on the Wye River in 1955 as a youngster. “That’s when I fell in love with boat racing,” Baker said.
He served in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War in the 1960s. Upon his honorable discharge, other than running his own business, Baker’s Liquors in Chester, it was all about family time and boat racing. Baker drove for five different established power boat groups, gaining more experience.
In 1977, Baker owned his own first big powerboat, and 10 championships followed with a 30-year career in the sport, 1977 — 2007. He drove four different classes of boats over the years, winning championships in them all — 5-Litre, 2.5 Litre, 6-Litre and 7-Litre. He was eight-time points champion and was inducted into the APBA Hall fo Champions in 1987.
At the induction ceremony Thursday, Baker was quick to give credit to his family for helping him achieve success, especially Holly, his wife of 47 years, for her longtime support, and both his brothers, Tom and Ted.
“When I first started racing, if I messed up, my brothers would take me aside and tell me what I was doing wrong,” Baker said. “Their advice was priceless.”
Among his speed records is winning the 7-Litre class at Essex in 1987, averaging 117.5 miles per hour. He said, “I was flying.”
He said, “If you made expenses you had a good weekend. No, there’s no money in power boat racing. You’re out there because you love it.”
He added, “It’s a ver y exciting sport, very dangerous, but exciting.”
Baker is currently president of the Kent Narrows Racing Association and chairman of Chesterwye Foundation, which supports programs to help adults with developmental disabilities.
Prior to the induction ceremony, Baker said, “I just hope I don’t start crying. I can’t help it, I’m getting old. I’m lucky to be here.”
The five previous powerboat inductees were: Donald J. Christy in 1980, Alton C. Pierson in 1983, Calvert “Skeeter” Johnson in 1984, George Cusick in 1991 and Edmund Thompson in 2004.
Baker introduced Pierson at his Hall of Fame induction in 1983. He called Pierson his “childhood hero in the sport.” Pierson’s daughter Bonnie Pierson Messix, of Chestertown attended Baker’s induction Thursday.
The other inductees in the Hall of Fame Class of 2016 include Jack Thomas in lacrosse, Louis Carter in football, Laurie Schwoy in soccer, Gary Jobson in sailing and Brady Anderson is baseball.
A surprise during the ceremony, Cal Ripken Jr., inducted in 2005, stopped by to tell stories about his former Orioles teammate, Anderson. The Angelos family that owns the Orioles and Orioles Manager Buck Showalter also attended.
Jim Henneman received the Steadman Award for Sportswriting, especially his longtime coverage of Orioles baseball.
To be considered for induction, the individual must be a native born citizen of Maryland. Some previous inductees include: Jimmie Fox, Babe Ruth, Al Kaline, Billy and Cal Ripken Jr., all baseball players; football players Lenny Moore, Art Donovan, John
Mackey and Kevin Glover; golfer Fred Funk; and basketball players Tom McMillen and Wes Unseld
There have been a very few “adopted” inductees, who were not born in Maryland but made significant contributions to the state, most retiring from stellar professional careers in their sport and staying in Maryland giving back to the community, such as Johnny Unitas and Brooks Robinson.
One animal has been inducted in the Md. Athletic Hall of Fame; the late Native Dancer, Marylandborn, Triple Crown winning thoroughbred, was inducted in 2014.
Some previous recipients of the John F. Steadman Lifetime Achievement Award, which is given to a citizen whose lifetime career in sports brought honor and distinction to Maryland and its citizenr y, include Morgan Wooten, Dematha basketball coach; Chuck Thompson, broadcaster; Orlando “Tubby” Smith, basketball coach, and Johnny Holiday, sportscaster.
One special note, 77 people representing power oat racing and honoring Wheeler Baker were in the audience Thursday evening, at Michael’s 8th Avenue, where the program was held. The MSAHOF gallery is housed inside The Babe Ruth Museum attached to Oriole Park at Camden Yards. A biography of each inductee can be found there.
Members of the Maryland State Athletic Hall of Fame, Class of 2016, are pictured following their induction, Thursday evening, Nov. 3, at Michael’s 8th Avenue in Glen Burnie. From the left, “John F. Steadman Lifetime Achievement Award” recipient sportwriter Jim Henneman, soccer player Laurie Schwoy, powerboat racer Wheeler Baker, Orioles baseball player Brady Anderson, lacrosse player Jack Thomas, sailor Gary Jobson, and football player Louis Carter. Wheeler Baker represented the Eastern Shore of Maryland. All of the inductees are native Marylanders who made their mark in their sports.
One special moment, at his induction to the Maryland State Athletic Hall of Fame, Thursday evening, Nov. 3, in Glen Burnie, honoree Wheeler Baker was surrounded by his granddaughters, from the left, Lindsey Baker, Baker, Regan Baker and Sydney Archey. The induction ceremony took place at Michael’s 8th Avenue.