After two seasons in Negro League baseball, Gene Baker became the first African American player signed by the Chicago Cubs. However, it would be three years before he took the field in a Cubs' uniform. Born on June 15, 1925 in Davenport, Iowa; Baker was a slick fielding shortstop in 1948 and 1949 for the Kansas City Monarchs who were managed by John “Buck” O’Neill. After signing with the Cubs before the 1950 season, Baker stayed in the team’s minor league system for over three years. During that time the Cubs were getting less than mediocre play from their shortstops, but the team never promoted Baker. Even the Cubs owner, P. K. Wrigley, began to question why Baker was still in the minor leagues.On September 20, 1953, Baker made his Major League debut as a pinch hitter. Ernie Banks, who the Cubs had signed from the Kansas City Monarchs on September 3, was playing shortstop that day and hit his first Major League home run. After Baker had left the Monarchs in 1950 to sign with the Cubs, it was Banks that followed as the Monarch’s new shortstop. However, Banks beat Baker by six days (September 17, 1953) to be the first African American to play a Major League game for the Cubs.
The Cubs moved Baker to second base the next season making he and Banks the first African American double play combination in the Major Leagues. Baker is credited with helping Banks develop into an All Star, Hall of Fame shortstop; while he was himself selected to play in the 1955 All Star Game. After the 1957 season began, Baker was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates and was a utility infielder and pinch hitter for their 1960 World Series championship team.