The interesting element about the Hall of Fame is that it always get’s me digging on the history of the game. This year I found something that shocked me to my very core.
Every year on April 15th we gather around the game of baseball to celebrate Jackie Robinson Day, as he was the first African-American to ever play in the Major Leagues. This notion, however, is false; Robinson was in fact not the first black player to play in the Majors. That honor goes to Moses Fleetwood Walker. Walker broke the colour barrier on May 1st 1884, and he played for the Toledo Blue Stockings, who were part of the American Association, which later became the American League. The contest was held in Louisville, and Walker played catcher.
Walker was born October 7th, 1856, in Mount Pleasant, located in eastern Ohio. Walker was part of a large family; he had around 7 siblings. The actual account of when Walker first started playing baseball is unclear or rather unknown. It is, however, believed that Walker probably started his relationship with the game of baseball in Steubenville. Walker then went on to Oberlin College where he became renowned as a great baseball player. In 1882 Walker transferred from Oberlin College to the University of Michigan. Walker at the same time played for an amateur team called the Neshannocks, located in New Castle.
In 1883, Walker left school and signed with a minor league team called the Toledo Blue Stockings of the Northwestern League. Walker was now pursuing baseball as a full-time profession. On the team many players were not paid; Walker was one of the few that were. The season, however, was not uneventful, for Toledo and Walker, especially when they were scheduled to play the Chicago White Stockings in an exhibition game. Cap Anson, the team’s best player, said that he would never play against or with a black player. Anson also stated that he would refuse to play the game if Walker or any other black player was playing. Anson on August 10, 1883 never did play against Toledo and sparked a debate in baseball on whether to outlaw African-Americans from the game.
The team, however, had immense success throughout the season and when the American Association was formed, a league designed to compete with the National League, the Toledo Blue Stockings were one of teams chosen to join the league. This meant that when the Blue Stockings took the field on May 1st 1884, Moses Fleetwood Walker broke the colour barrier in Major League Baseball. On that date he became the true first African-American to play baseball. The game was played against the Louisville Eclipse and Walker played catcher. Catchers during that time had a very difficult job as most of them had to catch without gloves. Walker’s first game in the bigs though wasn’t very memorable as he went 0-4 and committed four errors.
This proved to only be a blip on the radar as Walker went on to have a very successful season, accumulating a .264 batting average. Walker finished the year with 40 hits, a .325 OBP, a .361 SLG and a 107 OPS+. Walker, even with a poor slash line, was better than league average offensively due to the poor run environment of the era. Walker though only played in 42 of the 104 games that season. In fact he suffered an injury in July, which ended his season. Walker would never play in the majors again. Throughout the season Walker had to face heavy amounts of abuse from fans, apposing players and teammates. Some of his pitchers on his team would just throw whatever they wanted as they refused to take orders from an African-American ball player.
Walker then went on to play a few more years of minor league baseball until 1889 when the National League and American Association decided to ban all African-American players from playing professional baseball.
After that there would not be another African-American player in the majors for 63 years, until Jackie Robinson played his first game in the majors in 1947.
I think it’s a great tradition, celebrating what Jackie Robinson did in re-breaking the colour barrier in baseball. The problem I have is that Moses Fleetwood Walker is a player that should also be remembered and celebrated in his own right as the first African-American to ever play in the majors. He seems to have truly been forgotten from the history of the game. Almost everyone will tell you that Jackie Robinson broke the colour barrier in baseball; it’s time to change that.