Many Ohioans will be rooting for the Cleveland Indians as they play in the American League Division Series.
But some baseball enthusiasts are hoping they’ll take time to remember an Ohioan whose baseball career was cut short because of racism.
Many people think Jackie Robinson was the first African-American player to play major league baseball, however Ohio native Moses Fleetwood was actually broke the color barrier in 1884, according Democratic state Rep. David Leland, who is also a member of the Columbus Clippers board of directors.
Fleetwood’s birthday, October 7 will be known as Moses Fleetwood Day in Ohio due to a new state law.
Walker was born in Mount Pleasant, Ohio, in 1856. After a college career at Oberlin College and the University of Michigan, Walker was signed by the American Association’s Toledo Blue Stockings as a catcher. He played 42 games in 1884 before being cut because of an injury.
He subsequently played in the minor leagues but never got a chance to return to the majors when both the American Association and National League banned black players in 1889. Walker died in Cleveland in 1927.
Democratic state Rep. David Leland, of Columbus, says a day honoring Walker celebrates “the fight for equality in our society.”
Morris Eckhouse with the Baseball Heritage Museum in Cleveland says both Walker and Robinson were targets of racist behavior in their own times.
“I think Fleet Walker was in some ways more isolated in that but certainly had to go through the same kinds of things, the same kinds of racism and with the difference being, again, when Jackie Robinson broke in spring training, there were places that did not want to allow him to play,” Eckhouse said. “There were talks of strikes and petitions when he got to the major league level and at every turn, he had enough back up that he was able to persevere.”
“Certainly he had to go through the same things that Jackie Robinson had to go through and it doesn’t seem like he ultimately had the people in his corner like Branch Rickey for instance and the ownership of the Dodgers that decided to go through with what has been called ‘the great experiment.’”