Occasionally, a competitor emerges from among the countless Buffalonians who take their bowling seriously, catapulting himself and Buffalo onto the national bowling scene. Such was the boost that Riverside native Tom Baker provided Buffalo in the late 1970s early 1980s.
Baker joined the pro tour in 1976, won his first tournament in 1980 , and added six more titles by 1986. Although always one of the tour’s most consistent bowlers, Tom enjoyed a particularly defining series of moments in 1981. After titles at the Penzoil Open in California and the Las Vegas Showboat Doubles Classic, Tom tore up the alleys with a record-breaking performance at the PBA Denver Open. Baker set records for pins in a six game block (1,613), pins in 12 games (3,037), and for 24 games (5,856), and for a 42-game average of 247.45 based on a record 10,848 pins. The Denver tournament placed Tom third in earnings for that year behind Superstars Earl Anthony and Marshall Holman, and gained him recognition as a member of the 1980-81 Bowler’s Journal All-American Team along with Anthony, Holman and fellow heavyweights Mark Roth and Wayne Webb.
Baker endured assorted injuries and a 10-year winless streak, finally breaking through again to win the 1996 AC-Delco Classic in Lakewood, CA. The win silenced critics who had given up on Baker, pushed him closer to $1 million in career earnings (a mark he has since achieved), and put him back on the fast track (and ballot) for the PBA Hall of Fame.