Who was the first black baseball player ? But the first African American to play regularly in the big leagues wasn’t the Brooklyn Dodgers second baseman, it was Moses Fleetwood “Fleet” Walker.
On May 1, 1884, the 26-year-old Walker was the catcher for the Toledo Blue Stockings in their opening game in the then-major league American Association. Six decades later, while Robinson was hailed as a pioneer, Walker was seen more as a curiosity.
Before a June game against the original Washington Nationals, The Washington Post noted that Toledo’s catcher “is a colored man, and no doubt many will attend the game to see our ‘colored brother’ in a new role.” After Toledo won, The Post reported that Walker played in “fine style” catching star pitcher Tony Mullane.
Like many of Walker’s white teammates, Mullane respected the barehanded catcher as a player but not as an equal. Walker “was the best catcher I ever worked with,” Mullane said years later, “but I disliked a Negro, and whenever I had to pitch to him I pitched anything I wanted without looking at his signals.”
Walker first gained attention playing for Oberlin College in Ohio and then the University of Michigan, where he studied law. In 1883, the Toledo team recruited him to play in the new Northwestern League, a minor league. The club in Peoria, Ill., tried to ban Walker, but the demand “met with such disapprobation” that it was withdrawn, one newspaper reported.
The personable Walker was popular with many white sportswriters. The Sporting News later described him as “an avid reader of high-grade literature and a brilliant conversationalist.” But Walker faced discrimination on and off the field.
In Fort Wayne, Ind., a local newspaper reported, a “priggish head waiter” at one restaurant refused to seat Walker, who was said to be well-paid. Walker, the paper said, “receives more money in a week than the big-headed waiter had in six months, and is far more advanced mentally of the white man.” The waiter was fired.
Walker was never a great player, but was described as “a plucky catcher, a hard hitter and a daring and successful base runner.” He led Toledo to the Northwestern League pennant in 1883. The next season Toledo joined the American Association, which added four teams, including the Washington Nationals and the forerunner of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
BASEBALL, AFRICAN AMERICAN.
Most African Americans were historically excluded from playing baseball with their white brothers until Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in the white major leagues in 1947. However, long before Robinson paved the way for African Americans to play baseball at all levels, “blackball” was a source of great pride for African Americans in Oklahoma.
In black high schools and in sandlot leagues young African Americans excelled on the diamond, often overcoming the influence of poorly maintained fields and improper equipment. An example is Willie Wells, who played for sandlot teams in Oklahoma City in his teenage years before becoming one of the best shortstops in the history of the Negro Leagues. In 1997 he joined the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Black minor-league clubs in Oklahoma, organized as early as 1910, served as an informal farm system for the Negro Leagues. Teams in Oklahoma City and Tulsa regularly sent star players to teams such as the Kansas City Monarchs. Wilber Joe “Bullet Joe” Rogan left his native Oklahoma City to play for the Monarchs and rivaled Satchel Paige as the best pitcher in the Negro Leagues in the 1930s. In 1998 Rogan was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Oklahoma franchises such as the Oklahoma Giants and the Tulsa Black Oilers had loyal fans. Games between black teams drew huge crowds to baseball fields normally used by white teams. In 1929 the Douglass High School band led a parade to an Oklahoma City ballpark, and newspaper publisher Roscoe Dunjee threw out the first pitch to launch a new season for the Oklahoma City Black Indians.
The popularity of blackball in Oklahoma began to decline during the Great Depression, because fans had no extra money for leisure activities. After Pres. Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal provided jobs for the needy, the Oklahoma City Black Indians regrouped and kept a sporadic schedule against All-Black teams such as the Tulsa Black Oilers, Guthrie Black Spiders, and Boley Wonders.
After World War II and Jackie Robinson’s entry into the major leagues, the decline of blackball came quickly. The last recorded Oklahoma Negro Leagues game was played at Tulsa’s Oiler Park on June 5, 1962. However, Oklahoma continued to provide star African American players for the integrated major leagues. Henry “Hank” Thompson, an Oklahoma City native, was the first black player for both the New York Giants and the St. Louis Browns. Willie Stargell, born at Earlsboro, was the two hundredth player inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. He is one of only a handful of men in baseball history to play for only one team for twenty seasons. Stargell died in 2001.
The first Black pitcher to win a World Series game
When people think about players who made their mark with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Joe Black is not the first name that comes up. Obviously, Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese are legends and they should be recognized as such.
But Black had a season to remember for the Boys of Summer in 1952. Black, then 28, was a product of the Negro Leagues’ Baltimore Elite Giants. He was a rookie with Brooklyn and was its top reliever, going 15-4 with a 2.15 ERA and a team-leading 15 saves. After the ’52 season ended, he was voted the National League Rookie of the Year and finished third in NL MVP voting.
But it’s what he did on Oct. 1, 1952, that put him in the baseball history books. Black became the first African American to win a World Series game, and he did it against the mighty Yankees, who had won the last three World Series titles.
It was Game 1 of that ‘52 Fall Classic when Black became a barrier breaker. He helped the Dodgers defeat the Yankees, 4-2, by pitching the game of his life. Black tossed a complete game, allowing two runs on six hits and two walks while striking out six batters. Three of those K’s came in the third, when he struck out Billy Martin, Allie Reynolds and Hank Bauer. Robinson — a roommate of Black’s — Reese and Duke Snider supplied Brooklyn’s power with homers, which accounted for all four of its runs.
“For Black, the stage was not too big for him,” said Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. “He clearly was a fierce competitor. He pitched great in that game.”
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