Moses Fleetwood Walker was an African American Major League baseball player who was born on October 7, 1856. Many believe that Jackie Robinson was the first professional African-American baseball player. Robinson did get a lot of press at the time when he began playing, so many people assume that he was the first. According to the stats here at Baseball Almanac , the first African American Major League baseball player was actually Moses Fleetwood Walker. Here’s more information about him:
Moses Fleetwood Walker was born in 1856 in Mt. Pleasant, Ohio, a working-class town known as a sanctuary for escaped slaves prior to the Civil War. When Walker was three, his family moved to Steubenville, Ohio, where Walker’s father Moses W. Walker became one of the first African-American doctors in Ohio, as well as a prominent minister within the Episcopalian church.
Moses Fleetwood Walker grew up in Steubenville and then attended nearby Oberlin College, where he majored in the arts and philosophy. Walker began to play baseball for Oberlin in 1881, and his skill attracted the attention of the University of Michigan.
Michigan managed to persuade Walker to attend Michigan, where he played catcher for the Michigan collegiate team as well as a local semi-pro ballclub. In 1883, Walker suspended his education at Michigan to sign a contract with the Major League ballclub the Toledo Bluestockings.
Over the course of Walker’s career, which stretched from 1883 to 1889, he was known primarily for his defensive prowess behind the plate as a catcher, as well as his extraordinary durability. In those times, catchers wore next to no padding or protection, and Walker caught many games barehanded. Walker managed to have a thriving career and catch a majority of games for his teams until he began to struggle with injuries.
Walker was active during a time when there were racial tensions between African Americans and the rest of the population. It affected everyone, and even fellow players had something to say about it. Here’s what Tony Mullane , a pitcher, said the following
“Mo (Moses Walker) was the best catcher I ever worked with, but I disliked a Negro and whenever I had to pitch to him I used to pitch anything I wanted without looking at his signals.” – Tony Mullane
After his baseball career ended, he went into business with his brother and ran a hotel and movie theater with him in Steubenville. He also became a writer, publishing on the subject of race theory and race nationalism.
According to the stats listed here at Baseball Almanac , Walker was the first African American Major League baseball player, so Tony Mullane’s opinion wasn’t uncommon. Over time, things would change, but it took pioneers like Moses Fleetwood Walker , who played the game before it was socially acceptable, to pave the way for the future.