Moses Fleetwood Walker
Positions: c, of, 1b
Teams: minor leagues (1883, 1885-1889), major leagues (1884)
Born: October 7, 1857, Mt. Pleasant, Ohio
Died: May 11, 1924, Steubenville, Ohio
Tall, slender, handsome, and intelligent, he became the first black player to play in the major leagues when he played 42 games with the Toledo Blue Stockings of the American Association in 1884, batting .263 for the season. A catcher with the ballclub, later in the year he was joined by his brother, Weldy Walker, who joined the team as a replacement outfielder for an injured player. The previous season Fleet had batted .251 in 60 games with the team when they were in the Northwest League, which did not enjoy major-league status. In general he was well-received by players and spectators except in two southern cities, Baltimore and Louisville. He suffered a broken rib from a foul tip in mid-July and was released by the team later in the season amid threats of bodily harm from anonymous sources.
In 1887 he played with Newark in the International League, where he and George Stovey formed the first black battery, and Walker hit .263 and stole 36 bases for the season. The superstar of the era, Cap Anson, refused to play in the game because of their presence, setting the stage for future exclusion of blacks from the established leagues. Before the color line was established, Walker also played with Cleveland in the Western League in 1885, but the team folded in June and he joined the Waterbury team, which played in both the Southern New England League and the Eastern League, during the remainder of the season. In 1886 he hit .209 with Waterbury, and he joined Newark in 1887. When the Newark team folded in the fall, he was signed by Syracuse of the International League, and after the 1889 season he was out of baseball.
The son of a doctor, he was born at a waystation on the underground railway for fugitive slaves on their way to Canada, and as a youngster his parents moved to Steubenville, Ohio, where he attended integrated schools and played on integrated baseball teams. At age twenty he entered Oberlin College, attending for five years, the first two in preparatory school, and studied the standard academic curriculum of the era. In 1881, his last year, he played on the school baseball team as a catcher, with his brother also playing on the team. Leaving Oberlin before graduation, Fleet played baseball with the University of Michigan baseball team for two seasons, 1882-1883. Later in the 1883 season he turned professional, joining the Toledo team.
Later in life, after leaving baseball, he became a businessman, inventor, newspaper editor, and author. Embittered, he became an advocate of racial separation, supporting a "back to Africa" policy for American blacks.
Source: James A. Riley, The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues, New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 1994.