By: Andrew Hendriks
Canadian Baseball Network
By now, I'm sure you've heard of Jackie Robinson and how he broke the color barrier when the former Montreal Royal first took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.
But what of Moses Fleetwood Walker?
Those who have viewed the Ken Burns classic Baseball, researched the subject or fancy themselves a baseball historian will tell you that it was he who first broke that barrier when he played in, oddly enough, 42 games with the Toledo Blue Stockings in 1884.
It's true, Fleet was the first African-American member of a Major League ball club. His brother Welday Walker also appeared with the Blue Stocks in 1884, 63 years ahead of Robinson for those counting at home.
If Robinson wasn't the first, then why is his number (42) retired across Major League Baseball?
The difference between him and the Walker brothers comes in the form of the era in which they played.
In short, anything that predates the 1900's is considered the historical era while everything that comes after is said to be its modern counterpart.
The historical, or pre-modern era as it's often called, begins with the highly debated first playing of the Grand Old Game at Hoboken, NJ in 1846. It includes a variety of key rule changes, the initial establishment of Cincinnati's fabled Red Stockings and a handful of ill-fated circuits such as the Players League and the Union Association, both of which lasted only one season.
In 1901, pioneering baseball executive Ban Johnson declared his freshly minted American League to be major and thus capable of rivaling any team on the senior circuit. Two years later, the first World Series was played between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Boston Americans.
Johnson was right as his aptly named American's promptly defeated the National League Pirates in a best-of-nine series, taking the inaugural world title by winning five of the eight games played.
Although both leagues would continue to adopt series of changes in the years that followed -the dawn of the live-ball era, relief specialists and the designated hitter to name a few- this was the true beginning of how we see Major League Baseball today, and is why Robinson's 1947 campaign often overshadows Walker's 1884 contributions to the 46-58 Blue Stocks.
Last week we ran a story on Manny McIntyre, an African-Canadian multi-sport athlete who signed a professional contract with the class C Sherbrooke Canadians in 1946.
Like Robinson in America, McIntyre is widely considered to be the first African-Canadian to break professional baseball's color barrier.
Also like Robinson, he technically wasn't the first to do so.
An 1899 team photo of the Woodstock Bains was donated to the Canadain Baseball Hall of Fame earlier this year. Captured in the photo is an image of William Galloway, an African-Canadian infielder from Dunnville, Ontario, who, according to Baseball Reference, played in five games with the class-D level club that season.
Similar to McIntyre, Galloway also impressed as a hockey player but saw only a few at-bats as a pro ballplayer before having to leave the team due to adversity.
In esteemed sports historian, William Humber's 2004 publication titled "A Sporting Chance: Achievements of African Canadian Athletes", Galloway is noted to have been banished from the Canadian league due to an American import's disapproval of him being there. He later joined the Cuban X-Giants and traveled the United States as a respected member of the Negro Leagues, returning back home and continuing his career on the ice during the offseason.
This notation is not designed to discredit or take anything away from either McIntyre or Robinson. Rather it's purpose is to shed some light on the subject of pre-1900 ballplayers and the similar adversities they were subjected to. All of the players mentioned above are trail blazing heroes for what they endured during their respective professional baseball careers, both on the field and away from it.