Obituary: Mike Baxes (1930-2023)

RIP to Mike Baxes, a middle infielder for the Athletics in the 1950s. He died on April 13 at the age of 92. Baxes played for the Kansas City Athletics in 1956 and 1958. His older brother Jim Baxes (1928-1996) also played in the major leagues, with Los Angeles and Cleveland in 1959.

Michael Baxes was born in San Francisco on December 18, 1930. Along with Jim, he also had another brother, Andy. The Baxes brothers played ball at Mission High School, and they were an active part of San Francisco’s amateur baseball scene as well. While Jim, 18, was being scouted by the likes of Tony Lazzeri and Willie Kamm at the 1946 San Francisco Examiner all-star tournament, 15-year-old Mike was part of a strong Rincon Hill Legion team. Jim Baxes turned pro in 1947, leaving younger brother Mike (and another future big leaguer in Gus Triandos) to keep the Mission High team strong. Mike also followed in his older brother’s footsteps when he was chosen to represent San Francisco in the 1948 Hearst National Baseball Game, held between national and New York teams at the Polo Grounds in New York. Jim had been the most valuable player in the 1946 edition. The 1948 all-U.S. team, which featured Mike Baxes as the starting shortstop, also included Hobie Landrith as catcher and Dick Groat as the second baseman. Baxes was 1-for-3 with a single and a throwing error in the game, which the U.S. won by a score of 9-7.

Both Jim (1946) and Mike (1948) Baxes were named the High School Baseball Player of the Year by Cal-Hi Sports, an honor which has also gone to the likes of Rickey Henderson, Robin Yount, Ted Williams, Bill Buckner, Bret Saberhagen and Gregg Jeffries.

Mike Baxes and San Francisco Seals manager Tommy Heath. Source: San Francisco Examiner, February 3, 1954.

Baxes entered professional ball in 1949 when he signed with the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League. He was assigned to the Phoenix Senators of the offense-heavy Arizona-Texas League. How offensive heavy? Baxes hit .322 in his first pro season, and it was only good for fourth in the team in hitting. He also homered 8 times, drove in 90 runs, stole 15 bases, earned a .424 on-base percentage and flashed some good leather at shortstop. He then moved to the Salt Lake City Bees in 1950 and batted .284. He was the only player on that team to make the major leagues, though Hawaii-born outfielder Wally Yonamine would reach the Baseball Hall of Fame in Japan. Whether it was for the Seals or a lower-level development team, Baxes continued to hit well up to 1952, when he was called to military service. Baxes played on the Fort Ord baseball team until he was called overseas, and he hit .346 while stationed in Germany in 1953.

Baxes, now 23 years old, returned to San Francisco and the Seals in 1954. He stayed with the Pacific Coast League team for the entire year and hit .248 while readjusting to pro ball. By the time 1955 rolled around, Baxes was back in top form. He finished fifth in the PCL in hitting, with a .323 batting average, and he was sixth in the league with 33 doubles. After the season, the cash-strapped Little Corporation, owners of the Seals, sold Baxes, outfielder Dave Melton and pitcher Bill Bradford to the Kansas City Athletics for an estimated $50,000 plus a player to be named. The Seals were hesitant to give up three players, but scout Rollie Hemsley had convinced A’s owner Arnold Johnson that all three were were worth acquiring. With the Seals struggling to stay afloat financially, it was an offer the team couldn’t refuse.

The move didn’t help the A’s, who never reached .500 during their time in Kansas City. The 1956 A’s lost 102 games and barely used Melton or Bradford. Baxes at least made it into 73 games with the team, though his best position, third base, was occupied by Hector Lopez. Instead, he spent most of the season as a late-inning substitute at shortstop for starter Joe DeMaestri, though he also appeared as a pinch-hitter, pinch-runner and, for 1 inning, as a second baseman. Baxes filled in a few times as a defensive replacement for DeMaestri in April before getting a start at shortstop against Cleveland on April 25, 1956. He walked twice and doubled off Herb Score for his first major-league hit. A’s manager Lou Boudreau never gave Baxes that many opportunities to start. He started about a week’s worth of games in early June and batted .261 over the stretch, including his only major-league home run in the second game of a June 11 doubleheader against Washington. It came at the expense of Hal Griggs and helped pave the way to a 6-3 A’s win. On the season, Baxes slashed .226/.339/.302 with 5 RBIs.

Kansas City sent Baxes to the Buffalo Bisons of the International League for all of 1957, and he put together the best season of his professional career — and a season that any ballplayer would envy. He slashed .303/.372/.448, with 40 doubles, 13 home runs and 76 RBIs. He hit two grand slams in the same game on August 5 as Buffalo demolished Havana 20-1. Baxes drove in a total of 10 runs in that game, setting a 20th-Century record for the Bisons. Less than 10 days later, he had six hits in seven at-bats as Buffalo swept Richmond in a doubleheader. He also made a number of slick plays at shortstop.

“I’ve seen all the great ones in the National League for 20 years… Billy Jurges, Marty Marion, Alvin Dark and name a dozen more if you want to,” said Buffalo manager Phil Cavarretta, “but none of them ever made so many great plays in one night as Baxes.”

Source: Buffalo Evening News, August 5, 1957.

Along with leading the league in doubles, he also topped all IL batters with 101 runs scored and 179 hits. He was voted as the International League Most Valuable Player for 1957. He returned to the Royals in 1958, and the team announced early that he would be converted to a second baseman and given the chance to compete for the starting job. The Kansas City Star noted that Baxes’ MVP season in Buffalo had had a positive effect on him. “This spring Baxes goes about his job with more dash. No longer does he appear to be timid and apprehensive as he was in 1956. The qualities of leadership he developed in Buffalo have stuck with him.”

Baxes was the Kansas City Opening Day second baseman and had a terrific April. He had 3 hits in a loss to the White Sox on April 26 to raise his batting average to .354. He slumped badly in the month of May but showed signs of getting hot again in June. He was 4-for-4 with 2 RBIs on June 4, leading the A’s to a 5-4 win over Washington. But the very next day, he sprained an ankle attempting to turn a double play and was lost for most of the next month. He came back in July but didn’t hit well and lost his starting role soon after. Baxes’ final appearance of the year was a start against the White Sox on September 27. He doubled and walked in four plate appearances, leaving him with a .212/.286/.264 slash line in 73 games.

Mike Baxes, center, and two unidentified San Francisco Seals alumni are honored before a spring training game between the Giants and Oakland Athletics. Source: Reno Gazette, April 3, 1994.

Kansas City traded Baxes, outfielder Bob Martyn and cash to the New York Yankees on April 12, 1959, getting minor leaguers Tommy Carroll and Russ Snyder in return. The Yanks had established middle infielders in Bobby Richardson and Tony Kubek (and the ever-present Hector Lopez, who had joined the Yankees from the A’s in a previous trade), so Baxes was assigned to Richmond of the International League. He failed to hit .200 there and spent 1960 bouncing around a few different teams in the Pacific Coast League. The Buffalo Bisons were willing to sign him in 1961 when other teams weren’t looking for a 30-year-old infielder. “We owe this to Mike Baxes for all that he did for us in 1957,” said team president John Stigimeier, noting that the team drew 450,000 fans that year. “Mike made possible that great year, and we can’t forget that.” But Baxes no longer had a good arm for a shortstop, and his bat wasn’t enough to carry him at second or third base. Buffalo released him, and Baxes retired after a handful of at-bats for Tacoma in 1961.

In 2 seasons in the majors, Baxes played in a total of 146 games. He slashed .217/.303/.276, and he had 13 doubles, 2 triples and 1 home run among his 73 hits. Baxes drove in 13 runs and scored 40 times. His only time among the AL league leaders came in 1958, when he was thrown out stealing in 6 of his 7 attempts. That left him ninth in the AL for times caught stealing.

Baxes returned to California and played some semi-pro ball after his retirement. He played for the Ellis Brooks Chevrolet team from San Francisco, which occasionally featured other retired pros like Al Gacchini and Don Gile. According to his family-placed obituary, Baxes remained a Bay Area sports fan throughout his life. He was married to his wife, Loretta, for 60 years until her death in 2018, and he is survived by his children, Michael, Thomas and Kenneth, and their families.

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