COLUMBUS — The Ohio House has unanimously passed a bill that would honor the legacy of the nation’s first black professional baseball player on his birthday.
The measure would mandate that Oct. 7 be declared Moses Fleetwood “Fleet” Walker Day each year in Ohio, The Blade newspaper reported.
The bill, passed last week, was sponsored by Rep. Stephen Slesnick, a Canton Democrat. It now heads to the state Senate for consideration.
Many consider Jackie Robinson to be the player who broke baseball’s color barrier when he first suited up for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. But Walker played professionally for the Toledo Blue Stockings for one season in 1884.
“Fleet’s baseball life … was devastated by rising racism and discrimination as managers would refuse to allow their batters to bat because they were too close to an African-American as he was catching,” Slesnick said.
Toledo was part of the American Association, a forefather to the American League, when Walker played.
“Other than his one year with Toledo, he was almost barnstorming,” said Mickey Cochrane, curator of Bowling Green State University’s Athletic Archives and Museum. “He played with three or four teams. I don’t think people knew of it, and as other Negro League players came along, he was pushed further behind.”
Walker, an Ohio native who died in 1924, has “First Black Major League Player in USA” inscribed on his tombstone at his final resting place in Steubenville.
“He was a unique individual who brought more to the table than just his athletic ability,” Cochrane said. “This was an appropriate thing to do.”
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