1 Sep 2013

Maurice (Moe) Baker: Man of steel and wood

Moe Baker was 13 when he asked his step-father for a set of barbells. Instead, his step-father, a Maine lumberjack, took him out in the woods and said, "Here's a pile of wood. Load it in the truck."

Every weekend from that day on, Moe loaded tons of wood and when he was 16 started work fulltime for the lumberyard cutting trees by hand. For fun during breaks, the lumberjacks "took it easy" by arm wrestling to see who was strongest.

"I didn't do too well at first against the old wood-choppers," said Moe, "and never won a contest. But they taught me the secrets of arm wrestling, especially how to top-roll. It wasn't called top-rolling back then, of course."

Moe enlisted and served in the 82nd Airborne Division during the Berlin crisis of the early 1960s. When he returned to his job at the lumber company three years later, "I paid back the old wood-choppers for the beatings they gave me," he said, with a chuckle in his voice.

Man of Steel

Moe never lifted weights to gain his incredible strength. Instead, he worked at the scalding hot steel forge at the New Departure-Hyatt Division of General Motors in Bristol, CT, for 25 years. Forge workers had to have incredible arms and wrists to handle the 5-inch-thick steel bars of all sizes (each bar weighed 56 pounds/foot).

More than 3,000 men worked in the facility and, much like the lumberjacks Moe worked with as a teen-ager, the strongest worked at the forge and engaged in arm wrestling contests. Moe quickly established himself as the plant's best puller.
Moe Baker in the finals of the 1968 IFAW World Championships.
"One of my co-workers said if you're so darn good why don't you compete in the World Armwrestling Championships in New York City." Moe entered the contest, held in Brooklyn in 1968, and won the heavyweight title. It was at that contest that he met another newcomer to the sport, Steve Stanaway, who won the 198 pound class.

When he returned to the steel mill with his trophy, workers encouraged him to enter the World Arm Wrestling Championships  in Petaluma, CA, in 1971. There, he suffered a humiliating defeat to Jim Dolcini in the finals. "I lost due to my own stupidity," said Baker. "My arm tightened up and gave out. But I told Dolcini I'd be back to beat him the following year."

Moe Baker vs Jim Dolcini - finals of WWC Petaluma 1972
The year when he won his world title in Heavyweight division
Moe kept his word and won the follow-up match. He then went on to win four more world heavyweight

championships and a dozen or so national titles. In the days before arm wrestlers won cash prizes, Moe found long-distance trips, such as to Petaluma, to be too expensive. So he focused on all the East Coast tournaments and faced champions such as Roy Ridgely and Jim Williams.

"Ridgely wanted to beat me real bad," said Moe, "and on one occasion met me at a Massachusetts bar and challenged me to a match. He tried to get me drunk before the match, figuring I'd be easier to beat. But what he didn't know was that I get better when I drink." Moe won.

Moe Baker vs Jim Williams - Worlds in Scranton 1971
Jim Williams, the 340-pound power lifter from Scranton, PA, was the strongest man Moe ever pulled, he said. "If Williams had known arm wrestling techniques he might have been unbeatable. He was that strong." Moe also developed a friendship with Al Turner, who he usually met at East Coast world and national championship contests. "He was a great arm bender," said Moe, "the best."

Didn't like the hook

Moe never used the hook.and he never allowed anyone to put him into a hook.

"The hook gets you in trouble," he said, "and I always believed in keeping my arm and hand very straight. My secret was to hold the top of my opponent's hand and pull against his fingers, not his wrist, and to draw his hand towards my nose before applying side pressure. No one understood this technique back in the old days .except the lumberjacks."

By today's standards, with some heavyweights tipping the scales at more than 400 pounds, Moe might not stand out. At his fighting best he weighed around 260, had a 52-inch chest, 20-inch biceps, 18-inch   forearms and 9.5-inch wrists.

At 70 years old and living in New Hartford, CT, he takes it easy in retirement, mainly because he recently went through triple-bypass surgery. His daughter, Danya, arm wrestled for many years and won several national and world championships. Moe was honored two years ago when he was inducted into the Bristol, CT, Sports Hall of Fame.

Moe's advice to up-and-coming arm wrestlers: "Ever milk a cow? That activity takes a lot of power, as do other manual tasks that involve the hands, wrists, arms and overall body. Weights are all right, but you need all-around power developed by hard physical work." Moe should know.

Author: Jimmy Van Orden

Moe Baker and Al Turner - practice table

Moe & daughter Cindy Baker - interview with Bob Gruskin
World Arm Wrestling Championship - 15 MAY 1977

Moe Baker in the middle - World Arm Wrestling Championship 1977
left to right: Joe Zarella, Ed Jubinville, Moe, Al Turner, Bob O'leary

Moe Baker - WWC Petaluma 1972

Moe Baker - one of the elimination matches at WWC Petaluma 1972

Read other articles written by Jimmy Van Orden here...