While Jackie Robinson is generally considered the first black player in the modern era there was a black player named Fleet Walker who played in the 19th century. This is his story:
MOSES FLEETWOOD WALKER
It has been said, repeatedly, that Jackie Robinson broke the color line in Major League Baseball. "That just ain't so." In point of fact, Robinson wasn't even the second African-American to play in the Major Leagues; he was the third. The title of first African-American to play Major League Baseball goes to one Moses Fleetwood Walker, or as he was know in his playing days, Fleet Walker. Fleet's younger brother, Weldy, was the second African-American to play Major League Baseball. To be fair to Robinson, he did break modern baseball's color line, but he was beaten by two others for the distinction of being "first".
Fleet Walker was born October 7, 1857, in Mt. Pleasant, Ohio, the fifth child of Carolina and Moses Walker.
He enrolled in Oberlin College in 1878 where his interest in baseball blossomed. He was fast becoming obsessed with the sport. His position was catcher, and he played so well that in 1881 he was recruited by the University of Michigan. At Michigan, he became the star of the team.
While at Michigan, Walker played for the semi-pro team White Sewing Machine from Cleveland. However, he met with much prejudice. At a game in Louisville, the Louisville team refused to take the field unless Walker was substituted for someone more acceptable, ergo: white. Although Walker was a vital part of the team, White Sewing Machine did just that weakening their team to the point that they lost the game.
Still, Walker drew the attention of William Voltz, a former sportswriter, and new manager of the Toledo Blue Stockings of the Northwestern League. Voltz, in 1883, paid Walker the munificent sum of $2,000 to join the Blue Stockings team. Because of the Blue Stockings success in the Northwester League, they joined the American Association, one of three major leagues at the time, the other two being the Union Association and the more established National League.
Walker made his debut on May 1, 1884. That is the date when the color line was broken, not Robinson's debut 63 years later on April 15, 1947.
Walker was a bare handed catcher with a strong arm. He was a singles hitter with good speed. Although his batting average was "only" .263, that was 23 points above the league average. The Blue Stockings finished in eight place with a 46-58 record.
However, unknown to Walker, the powers of the American Association agreed with the National League's ban on black players. Though it was an unwritten rule, it was adhered to until Jackie Robinson broke the "modern" color line in 1947.
Fleet Walker died on May 11, 1924 in Cleveland, Ohio at the age of 67.
Another shameful episode in the history of major league baseball.