College

Wednesday, Feb 13 2013 08:39 PM

Baker synonymous with 'Gades football as team doctor for past 35 years

BY JEFF EVANS Californian staff writer jevans@bakersfield.com

The Bakersfield College football team has had a huge impact on Dr. William F. Baker Jr., and he's never forgotten it.

Baker, who played for the Renegades in 1968 and 1969, has been the BC team doctor since he returned to Bakersfield in 1978 to establish his medical practice.

Related Info

What: 47th Bob Elias Kern County Sports Hall of Fame

Where: Marriott Hotel

When: Feb. 28, 6 p.m.

Inductees: Former CSUB wrestler and NFL Super Bowl offensive lineman Stephen Neal, former UCLA All-American and U.S. National Team softball member Megan Langenfeld, former Washington Redskins defensive lineman Spain Musgrove and Dr. William F. Baker Jr., Bakersfield College's team physician for 35 years

Tickets: $60 each, available at Rabobank Arena box office and Raymond's Trophy, 300 Chester Ave.

He has given thousands of physicals and has had hundreds of consultations with BC athletes who needed medical assistance.

Baker will be inducted into the Bob Elias Kern County Sports Hall of Fame on Feb. 28 at the Marriott Hotel on Truxtun Avenue.

He is one of four inductees. The others are former Cal State Bakersfield wrestler and NFL Super Bowl winning offensive lineman Stephen Neal, former Washington Redskins defensive lineman and Bakersfield High graduate Spain Musgrove and Megan Langenfeld, a Centennial High graduate and former UCLA softball All-American and former U.S. National Team member.

Baker, 64, has done more than work closely with BC. He was also Foothill High's team doctor for about 25 years and also was a main force in the development of the Kern County Soccer Park in the early 1980s.

In addition to his medical practice, it was volunteering with the football programs at BC and Foothill that Baker focused on once he returned to Bakersfield.

"We're so lucky he's given all these years to BC," said Gerry Collis, who was the Renegades' head coach when Baker played for BC and was still on the job when Baker became team doctor. "Doc Baker is a real success story. He has tremendous loyalty -- which he has for all of his patients. He gives of himself every day, yet takes the time to do what he does."

Baker said a lot of his life's lessons came on the athletic field.

"Some of the most important years of my life in high school and college, the formidable things in life I learned from coaches Collis, (Duane) Damron and (Ned) Permenter," Baker said. "That made me want to come back and help them."

Damron was the offensive line coach when Baker played at BC. Baker, who admitted he didn't have the size or strength of many offensive linemen at the time, spent hours practicing and became the long snapper. Permenter was the longtime Foothill High coach.

"The first thing I did when I got back to town was go over to see Coach Damron," Baker said. "I showed up at a Renegades' practice during double sessions in September. I knew then I wanted to work with them."

Dr. Romain Clerou, who had been BC's team doctor since 1948, encouraged Baker to become a doctor and then encouraged him to work with BC.

"Doc was the first person who said I should go into medicine," Baker said. "I had a cyst on my knee in doing double sessions. He started operating on my leg, put me under a little anesthetic and he asked, 'What's your major?'

"I said philosophy. He said, 'You don't want to be a philosopher. You can't make a living doing that. Why don't you become a doctor? Forget about all that other stuff.'"

It was a relationship that remained close for the rest of Clerou's life. He died last November at age 98.

"I loved Doc so we had that relationship," Baker said. "He taught me how to be a sideline doc. ... Doc taught me how to tell the difference between a player who was hurt and a player who was injured.

"You didn't have MRIs and CAT scans then. There were no X-rays. You had to decide if that player was safe to go back into the game. You had to make that decision right then.

"Working with Doc, seeing how he worked, his thought process, was educational for me."

BC coach Jeff Chudy said having a team doctor at the community college level is special.

"Seventy percent of the places we go don't have anybody on their home sidelines," Chudy said. "Their trainer is their medical guy. For him to do this and travel to all our games, that just doesn't happen."

Collis said the coaches considered Clerou and Baker part of BC's staff. Clerou was inducted into the Elias Hall of Fame in 1980.

"A kid says he wants to get right back out there," Collis said. "But it's Doc Clerou and Doc Baker who say if he's ready to play. It could be a life decision-making situation. If the Doc says no, the kid isn't playing. We never questioned it."

Baker said the most serious injury he dealt with occurred to tight end Kevin Young during the 1982 season.

Young suffered a severely dislocated knee that severed an artery in his leg.

"I recognized the injury from 50 yards away," said Baker, who stayed with Young at a Los Angeles-area hospital that night. "The hospital did not perform the way it should have and he eventually lost his leg.

"It was a terrifying night. He was in agony and had no pulse in his leg. It was terrifying and ultimately it got to the point I was helpless.

"We were waiting for a vascular surgeon. I had made the diagnosis immediately but it was out of my hands."

But the pleasant memories far outweight the tragic ones. Baker said being active with the program is the most rewarding aspect of being BC's team doctor.

"It's really hard to put into words," he said. "The most rewarding thing about it is being part of the team, being part of something that's bigger than myself. Being a contributor to the success of the team, the success of the coaches, the success of the players -- in high school and college. That has its own rewards.

"For me, it's the way I think, the way I'm made. I had the opportunity to still be a Renegade.

"I was a Renegade two brief years, and then I've been able to be a Renegade over 34 years. I still bleed Renegade red."

Said Chudy: "I know he's a guy who still gets fired up. The hair on the back of his neck stands up when we play Fullerton, Cerritos and El Camino, our nemesis' from way back when."

Baker said he plans on continuing his team doctor duties indefinitely.

"I want to do it as long as I can physically and mentally do that," he said. "If there comes a time I can't do my job, I will step aside.

"It's like practicing medicine. I'm asked when I'm retiring. I have no plans to do that. I love medicine. I love the challenge of solving problems, learning things every day, meeting people when they need it the most. That brings great joy but also great heartache.

"As long as I can be of help to the team, I want to do so. I hope to live as long as Doc (Clerou) did. ... He was on the sideline almost every game until the last year of his life."

Baker said two of his best memories involved BC games with no injury issues.

He said his happiest memory was the fourth-and-inches pass from Stan Greene to tight end Lionel Sykes that kept alive the game-winning touchdown drive in the 1988 Shrine Potato Bowl, a 30-24 win over Fullerton in a battle of 10-0 teams that decided the JC Grid-Wire national championship.

Baker said another special memory was seeing his son Jon kick a game-winning 49-yard field goal on the last play of a game in 1990.

Baker said his most heartbreaking game memory was seeing Taft College score a late TD to pull out the 1990 Potato Bowl, a 34-30 loss that ended BC's bid for an unbeaten season.

"David Dunn got hurt, tore his hamstring, and Taft scored two late touchdowns," Baker said. Dunn was one of BC's best-ever wide receivers and kick returners. "If David Dunn hadn't got hurt, we would've won that game going away."

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