Ron Baker Tells Eagles He's Retiring

Posted: July 11, 1989

In good times and bad, whenever Eagles right guard Ron Baker was asked about the condition of the Birds, he would respond with look-you-in-eye candor. In the end, he was just as honest with himself.

Baker, the final survivor from the Eagles' Super Bowl XV team, understood the realities of depth charts, but even more, he understood people, including Buddy Ryan.

Yesterday, as the Eagles opened their "voluntary" camp, Baker, 34, a 12- year NFL veteran, announced his retirement with the same forthrightness and dignity that had marked his career. He conceded that he really didn't have much choice.

All along, Ron Solt has been the anticipated starter at right guard, and Mike Schad, obtained as a free agent in the off-season, has been handed the job at left guard. With younger bodies in front of him as backups on the depth chart, Baker knew fighting for a roster spot in training camp would have been futile.

"With Buddy, you really don't fight," said Baker, who spent nine seasons in Philadelphia and three with Baltimore. "You can fight all you want, but if he's got his mind set, he's going to put in there whomever he wants to put in there. That's just the bottom line to it. I'd just be spitting in the wind and having it come back on me. I just had to let it go."

Baker said his tenuous position with the Eagles was obvious when he walked into the May mini-camp and saw he was third on the depth chart, behind Solt and Reggie Singletary at right guard, with Schad and Ben Tamburello at left guard.

He said he stopped lifting weights about three weeks ago, which was an admission that there was no point in preparing for another campaign.

Then, two weeks ago, while working at a Bill Maas football camp in Kansas City, Baker listed the pros and cons of retiring.

The final score was 2-1 in favor of going home to Oklahoma to tend to his stores, where he sells aerobic apparel.

Yesterday morning, he had a half-hour meeting with Ryan, and when it was over, Baker - who started 98 of 99 games over the last eight years - was an Eagles alumnus on his own initiative.

"I was really glad he took that approach," Ryan said. "I was going to give him another shot, but I had the same opinion he did, that it was going to be tough for him to make it when you start looking at the depth chart. Few guys retire that way . . . where you didn't have to go tell them that they're through. So it makes it a little better situation."

What makes Baker's retirement intriguing is that last season he started the last seven regular-season games, plus the playoff loss in Chicago. Even more significant, it was his return to the starting lineup - after a freak toe injury he suffered when getting out of the shower in training camp - that stabilized the Eagles' offensive line.

Among the folks who noticed was quarterback Randall Cunningham, whose well- being obviously was at stake.

"We were averaging 5-point-something sacks a game (actually 4.7), and then when 'Bake' came back in, we only had 2.1 a game," Cunningham noted. "So that's the difference. Guys are used to working with Baker, and him being out hurt our team. I guess now (Matt) Patchan and the other guys have to step up."

Though Solt is listed as the starter, he still is on the mend from off- season surgery on both knees. He ran a few plays in noncontact drills yesterday, but if the Eagles had to play an exhibition came tomorrow, Patchan or Singletary would start, according to Ryan.

In the off-season reshuffling of the offensive line, last season's year-end starter at left guard, David Alexander, was moved to center, which means that all of Ryan's current guards had a combined 13 starts in 1988 (nine by Singletary and four by Tamburello).

So considering all that, wouldn't Baker, a proven performer, have been a great insurance policy as a backup?

"I never worried about security in my business," Ryan said. "If I did, I'd be in a different business. You can't worry about security. If you're building a football team, you have to do it with the best players.

"I've got to count on those young guys we have backing up there and believe that they can come through. That's what we have them here for."

Baker said that he wouldn't play for another team but that, if the Eagles did find themselves in a bind, he would return to Philadelphia. And in his own candid fashion, he indicated that that might be best for the Eagles in the short run.

"I figure this way, you get an older guy in there and go to the Super Bowl, because you may not make it again," Baker said. "He may not even go to the playoffs this year. I figure, go for the gusto right now and kind of ride it later on, then you can get some (younger) guys in there. But if you have one certain goal, you might as well go for it rather than waiting two or three years and getting it - you get it right now."

NOTES. After yesterday's workout, Ryan praised his two new starting guards, Solt and Schad. Of Solt, Ryan said, "He's doing more than I thought he'd do out there. From what his doctor told me, he couldn't get in a three-point stance and come off it, but he's doing it.

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