After two strikes, the Ohio Senate has a solid hit on a bill honoring baseball legend Moses Fleetwood Walker.
The governor’s signature will make the bill a home run. It would name Oct. 7, Walker’s birthday, after the first African-American major league player under contract.
“Fleet,” as he was known, was born in Mount Pleasant, Ohio, in 1856. He became Oberlin College’s first black player before suiting up for the University of Michigan.
At Oberlin, Fleet was a member of the school’s first baseball team in 1881, which went 3-0. Walker did not graduate, but returned in 1882 to play a final game for Oberlin during commencement in 1882.
He later joined the Toledo Blue Stockings for less than a season as a bare-handed catcher. In 1884, the team joined the major league American Association but disbanded after the 1885 season.
When the brothers took the field, the backlash instituted a shameful half-century legacy of segregated teams. Until Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, the Blue Stockings held the noble distinction of the only big league team to field black players.
Walker never received the same recognition as Robinson, who is widely credited with breaking baseball’s color barrier. Nor did his younger brother, Weldy, who was by his side on the Oberlin, Michigan, and Toledo teams.
The elder Walker sibling was famously acquitted in 1891 by an all-white jury in a trial for second-degree murder. Acting in self-defense, he had killed a white man who enjoined a band of friends to attack the one-time ball player.
Walker went on to buy the Union Hotel in Steubenville, owned a movie theater in Cadiz, and also published a weekly newspaper, according to the Oberlin College Archives. He published a book in 1908 entitled “Our Home Colony: A Treatise on the Past, Present, and Future of the Negro Race in America,” in which he put forward a back-to-Africa policy for black Americans.
He died in 1924 in Cleveland.
Earlier attempts to honor the Oberlin alumnus failed. The state House finally approved Bill 59 last year and the it finally passed the Senate on Sept. 20.
Assuming Gov. John Kasich signs the bill, it will go into effect 90 days later — too late to be officially celebrated this Oct. 7.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.
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