Jackie Robinson was not the first to break baseball’s “color barrier.”
In fact, Jackie Robinson is credited with breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball on April 15, 1947, nearly 63 years after it was truly broken.
Moses Fleetwood Walker, a Michigan graduate and catcher for the Toledo Blue Stockings, is the first African-American player in Major League Baseball.
Are you surprised to hear that?
Before I go any further, let me state unequivocally that this article is not intended to diminish Jackie Robinson’s accomplishments.
Whatever the truth of the situation is, the courage he displayed in literally risking his life to pursue his dream cannot be underestimated. Instead, I hope to shed light on one of the greatest injustices in American history, not just sports history.
Major League Baseball will never recognize Moses Fleetwood Walker’s incredible achievement on May 1, 1884. His number will never be worn by any of the 32 teams.
But what Moses Fleetwood Walker went through, and what his accomplishments meant for players like Jackie Robinson, can never be replicated or overstated.
Walker rose quickly through the collegiate ranks after transferring from Oberlin College to the University of Michigan in 1882. Walker batted.308 for the Wolverines, helping the team to a 10-3 record.
Walker signed with the Toledo Blue Stockings of the Northwestern League in 1883 after finishing his career in Ann Arbor.
Being a starting catcher at the time was not ideal, even by today’s standards. Walker, like most catchers in major league baseball in the late 1800s, wore no gloves or protection. This would play a significant role in the injuries that would end his career prematurely.
Moses Fleetwood Walker
Worse, Walker’s participation on the Blue Stockings enraged one of the era’s most famous players, Cap Anson, who refused to take the field opposite Walker if he was in the starting lineup. Anson eventually relented, but this was the start of Walker’s struggles as he attempted to realize his dream of making the big leagues.
Despite these obstacles, Walker would get a lucky break that would change the course of Major League Baseball history.
The American Association (later to become the modern-day American League) was formed at the start of the 1884 season by a burgeoning professional baseball league.
Its mission was to compete with this team’s dominant baseball league, the National League. The addition of the Toledo Blue Stockings to the American Association’s list of participating franchises was one of the American Association’s first moves.
This meant that the starting catcher for the Toledo Blue Stockings would become the first African-American player to play in a professional baseball game on the first day of the 1884 season.
Moses Fleetwood Walker took the field against the Louisville Eclipse on May 1, 1884, breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball.