Moses Fleetwood Walker: The Forgotten Man Who Actually Integrated Baseball
Sunday (April 15) was the 65th anniversary of the day Brooklyn Dodgers’ Jackie Robinson forever shattered Major League Baseball’s color barrier and it was celebrated throughout baseball.
And for the fourth consecutive year, every team took the field — all of the players, managers and coaches — wearing Robinson’s legendary No. 42.
The act was repeated at every big league game and was solid proof of Major League Baseball’s commitment to honor Robinson’s significant accomplishment.
All during “Jackie Robinson Day” I saw this inspiring commercial, which was narrated by Vin Scully.
“Before Ellsbury, before Kemp, before Ichiro, Mo and Thomas, before Gwynn, before Ozzie, before Murray and Carew, before Frank (Robinson), before Ernie (Banks), before Aaron and Mays ... there was Jackie,” said Scully.
But Major League Baseball’s commercial left out one small fact. Before Jackie Robinson, there was Moses Fleetwood Walker.
Although Robinson is rightfully honored for breaking up Major League’s color barrier, most fans think he was the first African-American to play in the Major Leagues.
Not so, as Walker preceded him by 60 years.
Fleet, an African-American 27-year-old catcher who once played for the University of Michigan, signed with the Toledo Blue Stockings of the American Association, then considered along with the National League to be a major league, back in 1884.
When Walker made his debut on May 1, he immediately ran into a wall of bigotry.
Later that summer on July 15, Fleet’s younger brother, Weldy Wilberforce Walker, joined the Toledo team, only to be released on Aug. 6.
On his own, Fleet still managed to rise above the racism that confronted him.
Four days after his younger brother was released, Cap Anson’s Chicago White Stockings refused to played Toledo with Walker on the field.
However, Blue Stockings Manager Charlie Morton informed Anson that his White Stockings would forfeit the gate receipts if they didn’t take the field.
Reluctantly, Anson agreed to play.
But Fleet’s stay in professional baseball didn’t last long. He hit .263 in only 42 games and played infrequently after July when a foul ball broke one of his ribs.
Fleet was released by Toledo after the 1884 season and spent the next several years playing for several minor league teams trying to land a spot with another major league ballclub. Financial problems, however, forced the Blue Stockings to the minor league level in 1885 and eventually the club disbanded.
But shortly after the 1887 season concluded, the American Association and the National League made a “gentlemen’s agreement,” which unofficially banned African-American players from professional baseball. One year later, all the minor leagues followed — and blacks were out of the game.
Baseball would remain segregated until 1947 when Jackie Robinson “broke the color barrier” in the major leagues when he took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
As for Walker, he would not suffer financially after his brief baseball career as he purchased the Union Hotel in Steubenville, Ohio. Also, he saw that moving pictures could be very popular, and he bought a theater and applied for patents on several inventions for moving-picture equipment and even published a weekly newspaper.
Walker, who died on May 11, 1924 in Cleveland, Ohio, has traditionally been credited as the first African American major league player. Research in the early 21st century by the Society for American Baseball Research indicates William Edward White, an African American, played one game for the Providence Grays in 1879.
You be the judge.
Jamie Moyer makes history
Sometimes, we as fans of the game are fortunate enough to witness a historical event in baseball.
On Tuesday, Apr. 17, 2012, history was made when a 49-year-old left-hander became the oldest pitcher to win a major league game.
Colorado pitcher Jamie Moyer hurled seven efficient innings to help the Rockies beat the visiting San Diego Padres, 5-3.
According to his pitch data, not one of Moyer’s pitches, be they fastball or whatnot, topped 80 miles per hour. That’s astonishing.
Moyer, at 49 years, 150 days old, won his 268th game, tying him with Hall of Famer Jim Palmer for 34th on the career list.
Before Tuesday, the oldest pitcher to win a game in the majors was Brooklyn’s Jack Quinn on Sept. 13, 1932, when he was 49 years, 70 days old.
You just never know what you will be a witness to when you watch a baseball game.