Pioneer Player

Welday Walker blazed a trail for African Americans in big league baseball

February 05, 2013
Welday Walker (NBHOF Library)

Throughout Black History Month in February, the Hall of Fame celebrates the lives of African Americans who made historic contributions to the National Pastime. 

By Lauren Camean

Jackie Robinson is often assumed to be the first African American to play in professional baseball, but in fact there were a selected few admirable precursors. 

Born in 1859 in the town of Steubenville, Ohio, Welday Wilberforce Walker would follow his brother Moses “Fleet” Walker to collegiate play at Oberlin College and later the University of Michigan and finally, into the majors.

Though the Walker brothers and other African-American players were fortunate to climb the ranks in education and in athletics, they still faced adversity that would linger well into the next century and into the careers of future African-American major leaguers. 

Welday Walker would be allotted little playing time, appearing in just six games as an outfielder with the Toledo Blue Stockings in 1883. His batting average of .222 may not sound impressive at first glance, but considering the Blue Stockings team average was .231, Walker easily held his own among his teammates. 

Often times the limited playing time was due to racist rivals and circumstances. His brother Fleet, the team’s catcher, would be forced to sit in the stands as an opposing player refused to take part in the game even if he was benched in the dugout. 

Both Walker boys tried to contest these obstacles and actively advocated for baseball to be a more inclusive game. Unfortunately, their crusade would be stunted as a crafted agreement, though unofficial, between executives in the late 1880s would prevent men of color from playing in the majors until Robinson would break the modern major league color barrier in 1947. 

Celebrate Black History Month with the Museum’s Pastime’s Pride features. Subjects include Buck O’NeilElston HowardRachel Robinson, the Evolution of Night Baseball, Welday Walker, Herb Washington, Connie Morgan, Bill White, Sam Lacy, Octavius Catto, Willie Horton, Bob Watson, Pumpsie Green, Charlie Grant, William Matthews, Don Newcombe, Vic Power, Emmett Ashford and Hank Thompson.  

Laurel Camean was a 2012 education-public programs  intern in the Hall of Fame’s Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program for Youth Leadership Development. For information on how to apply for the Class of 2014 Steele Internship Program, click here