Born in 1938 in the state of New York to an English father and Scottish mother, Gerry Baker would first arrive in the UK the following year at the outset of World War II as his Dad, George, joined the Merchant Navy, relocating the family to Liverpool in the process.
Sadly, Gerry’s father was killed in service and the family evacuated to Lanarkshire where his mother had roots, by which time younger brother Joe had been born who would also become a professional footballer in the coming years.
As a youngster Gerry showed incredible sporting potential aided undoubtedly by a burst of speed that could have seen him pursue an athletics career, but it was football that interested the older Baker brother and at the age of just 17 he made the decision to move to London and sign for Chelsea in 1955, however he soon felt homesick for Scotland and returned to Lanarkshire by signing for Motherwell the following year after making just one senior appearance for the Blues.
At the time Motherwell were managed by former Saints full back Bobby Ancell who had built an impressive young ‘Well side including Ian St John in the centre forward position, which limited Baker to just 11 appearances in two seasons; but he still showed his remarkable potential by managing 4 goals in these outings where he sometimes was used on the outside left position at Fir Park much to the frustration of the player.
By the autumn of 1958, Gerry’s younger brother Joe had already become a goalscoring sensation for Hibs, which obviously motivated the ‘Well forward to seek regular first team football and it would be Saints manager Willie Reid who tempted the now 20-year-old striker to Paisley in a move which cost £2,000. It would be pound for pound one of the best signings ever made by St Mirren.
Reid had struggled to find a finisher for his extremely talented team which included some of the finest players in the league, in fact Tommy Bryceland and Tommy Gemmell were considering probably the best inside forward pairing in Scotland at the time and a real goal scorer could transform the side into one genuinely capable of winning honours.
Baker would instantly provide the goals for Reid, and he was the difference between Saints being a good side and brilliant side. After scoring the winner on his debut against Hibs at Love Street on the 22nd of November 1958, where both Baker brothers wore the number 9 shirts for their respective teams, the young American born forward practically didn’t stop scoring for the next 18 months.
The youngster reached the 20-goal mark for that season on the 28th February 1959 against his former side Motherwell in the third round of the Scottish Cup, netting Saints second in a 3-2 win in front of an impressive 26,956 spectators at Love Street. It had taken Baker just 98 days from his debut and only 15 matches to reach that milestone, the quickest in the history of the club.
The goals just continued to flow, and after scoring 4 against Peebles Rovers in Saints first Scottish Cup tie that season before the Motherwell match, the Paisley side faced Dunfermline at Love Street in the Scottish Cup Quarter final on the 14th March 1959, with Baker popping up with 10 minutes remaining to land the winner during a 2-1 win in which Saints had trailed for the only time during the Cup run, putting the club into the semi-finals where they would meet Celtic at Hampden Park.
The 73,855 in attendance on the 4th April 1959 that afternoon witnessed not only arguably Saints greatest performance of the 20th century, but one that is considered the finest of any Scottish club in a domestic club match, certainly an opinion held by BBC Radio Scotland Historian Bob Crampsey, who was better placed than anyone to have an opinion on the matter.
Baker would keep his scoring run in every round going when he lashed the ball high past Frank Haffey in the Celtic goal after 38 mins to give Saints a 3-0 lead, a score-line made better by Tommy Bryceland scoring a fourth in the second half to complete a 4-0 victory which in no way flattered Saints who could have scored several more during a rampant attacking performance.
With the final only 3 weeks away, Baker showed no sign of letting up, and against Partick Thistle a few days later he reached 20 league goals for the season in his 18th Division One match as Saints beat the Jags 4-3 at Firhill, taking his total for the season to 27 goals in all competitions in just 22 appearances, however the American still wasn’t finished.
In front of 108,591 spectators on the 25th April 1959, Saints took on Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup Final at Hampden as favourites, certainly with the 70,000 or so Buddies in attendance anyway, and once again the brilliant front line spearheaded by Baker delivered with three goals, this time Baker grabbing the third goal with 14 minutes remaining to put his side 3-0 up and effectively win the Cup for Saints.
Baker’s introduction had been remarkable. 28 goals in 24 matches that season is as good as any start for a player at a new club not just in Saints history but in probably the entirety of Scottish football. Saints had played 12 league games before Baker arrived and won just twice, picking up and average of 0.75 points a match (2 points for a win) and heading towards a relegation fight
After Baker arrived, the team picked up 1.05 points per match which boosted Saints to a seventh placed finish out of 18 clubs at the end of the campaign, but this improved average would have been good enough for Saints to finish 4th had it started at the beginning of the season. The team would also score an average of 2.17 goals per match after Baker started his first match for the club compared to 1.75 beforehand. Baker was simply the final piece of the jigsaw Reid had been searching for over several seasons and it delivered one of the finest teams in the history of the club.
Great things were expected the following season from Baker and the team, and the forward responded with 35 goals in 44 matches in all competitions, including a 20th century record of 10 goals in one match, against the amateurs Glasgow University in the Scottish Cup during a 15-0 win, however the team had a dreadful second half of the season and finished 14th despite the goals of Baker.
At this point the Saints man had 63 goals for the club in just 68 matches, but interest from elsewhere and the poor form affected his incredible goal scoring rate from this point in Paisley, and after netting just 3 times in 13 matches at the start of the 1960/61 season, Gerry was sold to Manchester City for £17,500 which although marked a significant profit for the player, seemed scant reward for such a successful scorer.
Baker would continue to score wherever he played, including his time with Manchester City when he struck up a partnership with Denis Law which yielded 31 league goals (14 for Baker) and at the end of his long career which finally ended in 1975, Baker had scored an outstanding 201 career goals in 409 matches. However, it is time with Saints that was most notable, and the prolific striker was inducted into the club Hall of Fame in 2007 and for many years had a suite at Love Street named after him before the old stadium was demolished in 2009.
After settling in England following his football career where his daughters Karen and Lorraine were born, Gerry worked at the Jaguar factory in Coventry and watched his two girls become excellent professional athletes, with Lorraine placed 5th in the 800m final at the 1984 Olympics games.
In time however, Gerry would make it back “home” to Scotland and the Saints legend returned to Lanarkshire in his later years sadly passing away on the 24th August 2013 in his native Wishaw aged seventy five following a stroke, but with his name and legend living on forever in Paisley.