Donor Spotlight: Jay Baker showcases extensive Yankees collection

Part of the BASEBALL HISTORY series
Written by: Janey Murray

When Jay Baker was a kid growing up in Flushing, Queens, there were three local baseball teams to choose from: the Dodgers, the Yankees and the Giants.

Baker, a longtime National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum donor, chose the Yankees, and would remain a fan of the team for life.

“In Flushing, for whatever reason, you were either a Yankee fan or a Dodger fan,” Baker said. “I never knew a Giants fan. I’m sure there were some, but they weren’t where I grew up. And I just became a Yankee fan, and I’ve been a fan ever since.”

Not long after that, he began collecting memorabilia – both baseball-related and not. He sought everything from Mickey Mantle rookie cards to Batman, Superman and Captain Marvel comic books.

But Baker lost all of his early collectibles – in a tale that is likely familiar to many young collectors.

“I look back on my life, and I was always a collector,” Baker said. “I came home my freshman year of college, and my mother had thrown everything out.”

Later on, though, after Baker had risen through the ranks of the retail industry to become the president of Kohl’s Department Stores, his wife, Patty, encouraged him to take on a new interest.

As a gift, she offered him the choice of two baseballs to jumpstart his new hobby. He liked them both and his collection began. From then on, Baker was hooked.

“I started thinking, how do I make a collection important? I can’t be everything to everybody,” Baker said. “So I decided to take on the (four) great Yankees: Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle – those four, and then a little later, I tacked on Jeter, because he was so great and another player that I saw play so often. I have those five as the cornerstone of my collection.”

Realizing how incredible the collection had become, he wanted to share it with others. He offered to showcase it in an exhibition at Artis—Naples, The Baker Museum, located in his hometown of Naples, FL along with selections from their personal fine art collection.

“[The Baker Museum is] very important to us – we’ve been involved from day one,” Baker said. “It’s something that’s very dear to our hearts. I’ve been chairman of the Artis—Naples board museum committee for a long time and have loved watching it develop and grow.”

The exhibition, titled “Baseball Heroes: Works from the Jay H. Baker Collection”, runs through May 15, and features more than 100 artifacts celebrating DiMaggio, Gehrig, Jeter, Mantle, Ruth and other Yankees greats. Ruth’s earliest known game-used bat, home plate from the original Yankee Stadium, Mantle’s first professional contract, the jersey worn by Jeter for his Yankees debut in 1995, the contract selling Ruth from the Red Sox to the Yankees and the uniform worn by Don Larsen when he pitched the only perfect game in World Series history are just a few of the important artifacts featured in “Baseball Heroes.”

It’s no surprise that Baker, a lifelong baseball fan, has also visited Cooperstown and the Hall of Fame several times. He attended fantasy camp in Cooperstown twice, even managing to get a hit off a Hall of Famer on one occasion. “They want everybody to get a hit, so finally, my third game, I got a hit off Ferguson Jenkins,” Baker said. “I think he pitched it underhand.”

By touring the Museum and going behind the scenes, Baker was able to grasp the significance of the Hall of Fame’s collection. As an avid collector himself, he knew the importance of contributing to help the Hall of Fame fulfill its mission.

“I’ve been a baseball fan, as I said, my whole life,” Baker said. “Your museum is the museum of baseball, and it’s incredible. What can you say? You have an incredible collection and you keep it so beautifully – you are the main place to go to see baseball memorabilia.”

Additional information on “Baseball Heroes: Works from the Jay H. Baker Collection” can be found at artisnaples.org.


Janey Murray is the digital content specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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Part of the BASEBALL HISTORY series