Moses Fleetwood Walker: The Man Who Came Before Jackie Robinson

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Whenever we talk about black players who broke the color barrier, Jackie Robinson’s name pops comes up. He was the first African-American to play in the Major League Baseball (MLB). However, before him, there was Moses Fleetwood Walker. 

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His career didn’t last but his significance in the game was great. Read more about him below.

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Moses Fleetwood Walker’s Early Life

Moses Fleetwood’s career. Video Credit: WTOL11

Moses Fleetwood Walker was born on 7 October 1856 in Ohio, Mount Pleasant, an area that was synonymous with slavery. His father was the first black physician in the area. 

Fleetwood went to Steubenville High School and later pursued philosophy at Oberlin College. His academic abilities have been well-documented, noting that he was also good in sciences. That said, it’s not clear how Moses Fleetwood Walker started playing baseball but seems he took it up when he was in high school.

There he played as a team catcher and rose to stardom with his skill, as the best catchers in the team. The University of Michigan spotted him and bought him. Michigan was struggling at the plate and had even acquired some semi-professional pitchers but it didn’t help their record.

With Moses Fleetwood, things shaped up and he registered a batting average of .308. Alongside that, the pitcher also played for the White Sewing Machine Company of Cleveland. 

However, many detested his presence including the Louisville Eclipse, who threatened to walk out. As a result, the team didn’t include Walker in the starting lineup.

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Professional Career

A review of Moses Fleetwood Walker’s journey in baseball. Video Credit: Today I Found Out

The baseballer ditched his studies at Michigan University to get his professional contract with minor league team Toledo Blue Stockings. One thing that stood out about him was his endurance ability. 

During this era, players didn’t have the kind of protective equipment modern baseball players have which means injuries were frequent. He played a total of 60 games in a season.

However multiple teams didn’t want him in the league. This led to a debate over whether black players should be allowed in the league. Although the motion wasn’t successful, a lot of people didn’t want any players of color in the league.

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Major League Organization, American Association

Spotcovery-Moses Fleetwood Walker: The Man Who Came Before Jackie Robinson
A baseball field. Source: Wikimedia licensed by CC-BY-2.5

After the season, the Blue Stockings joined a major league organization, the American Association. Even then, he still faced problems because of his race. 

At one point, a fake letter believed to have come from their opponents the Chicago White Stockings, written to intimidate the team to pull out Fleetwood Walker from the side. 

Even though Toledo’s manager Charlie Morton stood up to Cap Anson and his team, Walker ended up not playing. And not because of the threats but because he suffered an injury that led to his release by the Blue Stockings. It was later revealed that Cap Anson team had nothing to do with the letter and that it was a prank.

After that, Moses Fleetwood Walker played in a couple of teams before Newark Little Giants hired him. He played and conducted administrative duties. By the time he left, he’d helped the team establish business ties but here. After his release, black people didn’t feature in the league’s rosters until Jackie Robinson in 1946.

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Legal Troubles

After his stellar, ground-breaking professional baseball career, Moses Fleetwood’s legacy took a hit. On 9 April 1892, he fatally stabbed a white man who was part of a group that racially attacked him. In court, he argued that he did it in self-defense and was found not guilty of second-degree murder and was acquitted. 

Later on, he was involved in a mail robbery and found guilty. He served a year’s jail sentence and then seemingly turned around his life. Walker became a successful entrepreneur owning the Union Hotel in Steubenville and also managing the Opera House, and movie theatre.

He established himself and owned patents for inventions of film reels. He also built a body of work in literature, writing the book, Home Colony, which expounded on his race-base theory. Walker died in 1924 from pneumonia.

Moses Fleetwood Walker did it all. He might not get all the praise Robinson gets but that doesn’t diminish his contributions to the game.  

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