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Baker was a Star in All Sports
October 8, 3013
By Mark Janssen
When it comes to Hall of Fame status, "contributor" normally is defined by dollars and cents.
While Dr. Richard Baker, and his wife Shirley, has been part of the Ahearn Fund family for over 30 years, it's his estimated 20,000 hours of service as the Wildcat team physician that will have him inducted into the K-State Athletics Hall of Fame on Friday night.
"It was shocking," Baker said of hearing the news. "It's unexpected and surprising to get this type of recognition."
But an honor also most deserved.
Prior to K-State, Baker was serving as an orthopedic surgeon at Fort Riley in the mid-1970s. It was a time when "...sports medicine was just starting to being recognized as a specialty area of orthopedics. It was definitely still in the formative years."
A native Pennsylvanian where he attended the Temple University School of Medicine plus schooled within the Pennsylvania Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania Health System, when Baker's military commitment had been served, the decision was made to stay in Manhattan.
"Manhattan needed an orthopedic surgeon and the Philadelphia area had plenty," said Baker. Besides, he added, "We liked the blue skies and green fields of Kansas. We wouldn't have to put up with the congestion of the Schuylkill Parkway. We just decided to spend a few more years... and here we are today."
The Dr. Richard Baker M.D. practice of 1976 would eventually lead to working with the K-State Lafene Health Center and then unofficial go-to team physician Dr. Guy Smith.
After Drs. Baker and Bill Jones had established the Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine facility in Manhattan, it was K-State interim football coach Lee Moon who pushed for Baker to become the full-time team physician in 1985.
Of his profession in sports, Baker said, "It was fun. It was what I loved to do, but at the same time there was the pressure of knowing that at any time something serious could happen to a young athlete."
Along with his regular medical practice, Baker soon would be obligated to attend some team practices, be available after practice plus be in attendance for all games. It was a busy time as Baker said, "Football is a collision sport. There are injuries. We were also covering high school teams in the area, so we were open to see kids on Saturday morning."
Whether it was Moon, Stan Parrish, Bill Snyder or any number of high school coaches, Baker said, "The coaches have always been supportive. They want what's best for their players but also want them back playing as soon as possible. They want to know exactly what's wrong and how long it is going to take to get back. They make you think of ways to perhaps speed up the process."
But with each coach, it was Baker, along with the team trainer, who had the final say as to whether a player would play or not. When the subject was to have surgery or not, Baker said, "That normally came in a discussion between myself and the player on the advantages of surgery now, or perhaps delaying surgery. Those can be tough times. Players have been in tears because they have put so much into it and in some cases had just became a starter.
"These are young kids who don't want to be hurt," said Baker. "They don't want to be wimps. They want to play the sport they love."
Through the years, Baker spent his Saturdays roaming the sidelines gauging collisions by sound, and then watching intently as to whether a player got up after going down.
"The speed of the game is so impressive today, but that makes for some ferocious impacts," said Baker. "That's what you watch for as a physician. You want to make sure everyone gets off the turf."
Repairing injuries is Baker's mission, and the world has changed in his 30-plus years of experience.
Using knee injuries as an example, Baker says as recently as the early-1980s the majority of the knee injuries were major surgeries and an entire season was likely lost.
"Today, a fairly simple orthoscopic knee surgery can take 10 to 15 minutes," said Baker, who estimates that a normal Wildcat sports year includes five to six such knee surgeries, and three or four shoulder surgeries.
In the early years, an injured player went immediately across the street to the Mercy Regional Hospital for evaluation. Later, an X-ray machine would be transported from Lafene to the football stadium along with the processing chemicals and someone who understood the technology. Today that 15- to 20-minute process is now done in second according to Baker.
While retired from the profession, today Baker watches games from a suite in the West Stadium Center with a group of friends, who also happen to be orthopedic surgeons.
"What I miss most is the follow-up with what becomes your family," said Baker. "You follow-up with the player, with the trainer and with the coach about the road to recovery. That follow-up period is what I miss."
While not necessarily in his area of expertise, Baker says he's glad that the subject of concussions has hit headlines at all levels of football.
"It's a good issue to be discussed," he said. "Players joke about being 'dinged,' but when amnesia, vomiting and headaches become involved, a young man should not be cleared to play. That's something to always be watched closely."
And, Baker has medical concerns "...when a young man is taking medications on his own. They can get them over the internet or from a body-building place and become a self-administrator. That can be dangerous. We make an effort for a young player to recognize the long-term effects. It's a problem when people take advantage of enhancing drugs that can be very costly down the line."