James Earl Baker, 78, of Liberty, MO, and formerly of Macon, MO, passed away October 24, 2022, at K. U. Medical Center.
Jim was born April 14, 1944, in Poplar Bluff, MO, the eldest of three children of Christopher Columbus Baker and Dorothy Inez (Guess) Baker.
He grew up in St. Louis, MO where he served as bat boy for his beloved St. Louis Cardinals during the 1961 and 1962 seasons. On those teams, Jim was with four Hall of Fame players: Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, Red Schoendinst, Minnie Miñoso; as well as Curt Flood, Ken Boyer, Tim McCarver, and Bill White. Some players regularly shared meals with him and a couple even attended his HS graduation.
In college, Jim went on to an earn a master’s degree in Education from Northeast Missouri State University. After college, Jim served in the US Army during the Vietnam era, receiving honorable discharge in 1971 after achieving five ranks in six months. He supervised 10,000 troops in 28 sports as leader of the athletic programs at Fort Huachuca. His patriotism and respect for America and its armed forces remained for the rest of his life.
Jim coached for over 30 years and achieved an incredible total of 550 career wins as women’s HS basketball coach. He coached at Knox County HS, Macon HS, Liberty HS, Piper HS and Shawnee Mission North HS. The majority of his career was in Macon, Missouri where he coached the Tigerettes for 18 years to 8 conference championships, district titles and trips to the state tournament; 4 state quarterfinals; and 1 final four. His coaching produced all-state and all-American players. His mother, a talented athlete of her time, was instrumental in developing Jim’s dedication to equity for women’s athletics, even before the existence of Title IX.
His passion for sports went beyond basketball. He started the track, softball and baseball programs at Macon HS and was also head baseball and assistant football coach. Along with his coaching career, he taught both physical education and English, coordinated at-risk student programs, and was a guidance counselor.
Jim also took the initiative to start annual summer basketball camps that attracted student athletes from across the state. He continually stood up against child abuse and supported racial equality. He also worked with the Macon Jaycees to build a basketball court for those without access to one.
“Jumpin’ Jim” or “Bake” or “Coach” was famously vibrant, energetic, humorous, and was a gifted and memorable storyteller with a unique statistical mind and memory. He was beloved by his students and players and his relentless determination to help kids changed the lives of those he touched. He was quoted as saying, “The greatest part of the struggle isn’t always the destination, it’s the journey getting there. And the journey has been extremely exciting.”
Along with his parents, Jim was preceded in death by his wife, Susan Gale Baker. Survivors include his children, Kelle Baker Broussard (Chris), Armand Baker and Laura Kipkoech (Vincent); granddaughter Zoila Kipkoech; his significant other, Janet Hurst; siblings, Bobby Baker and Jane Avilez; as well as nieces, nephews, other family members and friends, including his dog Coco and cat Thumper. His greatest love was for his family to whom he was devoted.
Visitation will begin at 1:00 pm, followed by a service celebrating Jim's life at 2:00 pm, on Sunday, November 6, at Park Lawn Northland Chapel, I-35 at State Route 291, Liberty, MO. Committal services with military honors will be held at 11:00 am on Wednesday, November 9, at the Missouri State Veterans Cemetery in Higginsville, MO.
In lieu of flowers, memorials are suggested to the Wounded Warrior Project (woundedwarriorproject.org).Service Information:
Visitation will begin at 1:00 pm, followed by a service celebrating Jim’s life at 2:00 pm, on Sunday, November 6, at Park Lawn Northland Chapel, I-35 at State Route 291, Liberty, MO. Committal services with military honors will be held at 11:00 am on Wednesday, November 9, at the Missouri State Veterans Cemetery in Higginsville, MO.
In lieu of flowers, memorials are suggested to the Wounded Warrior Project (woundedwarriorproject.org).