While looking for information about people involved in an unusual domestic battle that occurred many years ago in my hometown (Solvay, NY), my research introduced me to a family who just couldn't keep out of the newspapers after a fatal shooting on April 7, 1891, about five miles from Solvay, in downtown Syracuse.
All of which has nothing to do with what follows except that on April 10, 1891, in the Syracuse Daily Journal, a story about that shooting shared space with coverage of a fatal stabbing that also occurred in Syracuse. Arrested for murder was a man who had been a catcher for two seasons with the minor league Syracuse Stars.
That former catcher was Moses Fleetwood "Fleet" Walker. Before addressing his trial and his life after baseball, some background: Fleet Walker is a familiar name to people who study baseball history and play sports trivia games. Much — perhaps too much — has been written about him in recent years by those who claim Walker was the first colored man to play major league baseball.
Even if that were true, there is no justification for what several of these writers do next — compare Fleet Walker with Jackie Robinson.
There is no comparison. Robinson faced perhaps the greatest challenge ever thrown at a ballplayer. He was asked to cross a line that had been clearly drawn and defended for more than 50 years. He was not the first black man to play in a major league baseball game, but he was the first to be identified as such and given the task of ending the racial discrimination that disgraced our national pastime.
Walker? While his life and career were interesting —and he reportedly was an excellent catcher — he played during professional baseball's formative years and his participation in 42 games in what I consider an ersatz major league is of no special significance. That is not to say Walker was not a special person. Just the fact that he played seven consecutive years of professional baseball is important, and for that he should be remembered, but Walker was not the only colored man in professional baseball in the 19th century, and these others ought to be remembered, too.
It was almost by coincidence that Walker found himself in the expanding American Association in 1884 when the Toledo Blue Stockings joined the league — for one season. Walker wasn't a designated pioneer, as was Robinson. Nor, it turns out, was he the first colored man to play in a major league game. This discovery removed Fleet Walker as the answer to a question that belongs in a game of Trivial Pursuit.
Professional baseball in the 1870s and '80s bore little resemblance to what developed in the late 1890s.
The first "major league" was the segregated National Association, from 1870 through 1875. That it remains classified a "major league" upsets some baseball purists, as well it should, because there was nothing at the time to which this league could be compared. For all anyone knew, its best team couldn't beat a semi-pro outfit from Sheboygan.
It was replaced in 1876 by the National League, which continues today. In the beginning, however, the league was shaky, juggling its line-up of teams every season for several years.
The American Association, as a "major league," began in 1882, and remained in existence for 10 seasons. While a couple of its pennant winners held their own against National League champions in early versions of the World Series, the American Association, as a whole, never commanded the respect a major league deserves. In this regard, stars of the American Association have gotten relatively little support among Hall of Fame voters.
One thing that keeps me from getting excited about Fleet Walker's one year in a "major league" is that it happened in 1884, the most ridiculous season in professional baseball history. Why? Because the American Association foolishly expanded by four teams, and a third "major league," the Union Association, came into being. The result was no less than 33 "major league" teams, one of them playing only eight games. A year later there were only 16 teams again, the same as in 1883.
Those other 17 teams either were out of business or back in the minors. I'm not even certain there was a Toledo team in 1885. Walker spent that year playing for teams in Waterbury, Connecticut, and Cleveland.
Keep in mind there wasn't much difference in those days between minor leagues and majors. The minors were made up of independent teams, not members of a farm system controlled by major league teams. This development was years away. Some minor league players made more money than major leaguers, and no ball player received so much money that he didn't need an off-season job. Anyway, I think Walker's 1884 season is no more significant than any of his seasons in the minor leagues.
Jackie Robinson began erasing the color line in 1946, with Montreal, not a year later with Brooklyn. Most of the minor leagues became segregated by the end of the 1880s. There were instances where a colored team competed in an otherwise white league, but that ended when the Coal & Iron League, made up of teams in Pennsylvania and New York, folded after its 1898 season. One of the teams was called the Celeron Acme Colored Giants, and its home base was Jamestown, New York.
Few players — all of them white, obviously — made it from the Coal & Iron League to the majors. One of them was Olean, New York, outfielder Patsy Daugherty, who played 10 seasons in the American League.
One other thing: When I said Robinson was the first colored player to be identified as such, it was because both the major and minor leagues in the 20th century employed players who could trace their ancestry to Africa. These players usually were identified as Latin American or Cuban, even those who spent some time playing in one of the Negro leagues.
What was most admirable about Fleet Walker, it seems to me, was his perseverance. He played professional baseball from 1883 through 1889, and returned to the game, briefly, in 1891. He was primarily a catcher, always the most dangerous position, especially in the early days when players wore no gloves, or things that resembled today's work gloves, not the well-padded gloves and mitts used by players in the modern era.
Some colored players who played professional baseball — and there were several from the 1870s until the mid-1890s — were driven out of the game after a couple of seasons. Baseball just wasn't worth the abuse. Others found employment on all-black teams, either in an early Negro leagues or on barnstorming outfits. Pitting a colored team against an all-white team was a good way to attract a crowd.
The drawback, as far as several Negro players were concerned, is that the most crowd-pleasing colored teams clowned around during their games. They were baseball's versions of the Harlem Globetrotters. Players who objected didn't want to be regarded as jesters, paid to entertain people who despised them, but I can't help but think it sometimes added to their satisfaction when they clowned their way to victory over a white opponent.
(However, from the game results I've seen in many old newspapers, these colored teams lost these games as often as they won.)
No one knows the identity of the first colored player in professional baseball. Funny how it is often referred to as "organized baseball"; in the beginning, professional baseball was anything but. It makes sense that when men began receiving money to play baseball, several of these men were colored. This began in the 1860s, and most of the players were paid on a game-to-game basis, and today might be referred to as semi-pros.
Some colored men played with and against white teams, and it didn't take long for leagues to be formed, but records weren't preserved, which makes it impossible to say for certain who did what when.
One name that has emerged as a black pioneer is John W. "Bud" Fowler (born John W. Jackson), who, like almost all players in the 19th century, was at home at almost any position. (Few people were willing to be the catcher.) Since baseball teams sometimes had only one or two substitutes, its players had to be versatile.
Fowler wasn't the first colored man to play professional baseball, but he had a career in the minor leagues that can be documented, and this makes him as important as Fleet Walker when you consider the history of the sport.
In 1878, Fowler pitched for a minor league team in Chelsea, Massachusetts, before joining the Lynn Live Oaks of the International Association. With Lynn, Fowler once defeated Tommy Bond and the major league Boston Nationals in an exhibition game.
Fowler continued to play in the minor leagues for several years, but gave up pitching in the early 1880s and played mostly at second base. When not playing baseball, Fowler was a barber.
By 1883, there were at least two more colored player of note in professional baseball — Jack Frye, with Reading, Pennsylvania, of the Interstate Association and Fleet Walker, with the Toledo Blue Stockings of the Northwestern League.
The first "colored" man to play in a "major league" game appears to have been William Edward White, son of a white man and a black mother. Born a slave in Georgia in 1860, White grew up to attend Brown University, and in 1879 left campus to play one game for the Providence Grays of the National League, getting a single in four at bats.
Some dismiss White as the first colored major leaguer because he claimed he was white and generally was viewed as such. However, as soon as I saw the photo of White (right), I suspected the Providence manager knew of White's background when he inserted the young man into the game. I also think the reason White never played a second game is he was immediately suspected of being colored, though it may be he simply wanted to complete his education and go into another profession.
Fleet Walker's parents were of mixed race — his mother's maiden name was O'Harra, which I view as another spelling of O'Hara. So, technically speaking, he might have been Irish-African-American, but his skin was much darker than White's. Not that he ever would have considering claiming he was Irish. From what I've read, Walker had a fierce pride in his African heritage. He also was intelligent, confident, and not afraid to speak his mind. (Had he talked about his Irish connection, his baseball life might have been easier — or more difficult, depending on how his teammates, most of them Irish themselves, reacted to the news.)
Unlike the vast majority of professional baseball players at the time, Walker was college educated, attending Oberlin College in his native Ohio and the University of Michigan, where he studied law. He began playing semi-pro baseball to help pay for his education, and went pro full-time in the summer of 1883 for the same reason. While primarily a catcher, Walker sometimes played other positions. Unlike many of the catchers who came along later — the stocky, often fat guys like Shanty Hogan, Smoky Burgess and Roy Campanella — Walker was slim, agile and fast.
Through the years, Walker won over a lot of white fans, his managers, and probably several white teammates, but it were the many white fans and players who did not accept Walker that created problems. It also prompted Walker to carry the knife he used on that day in 1891 when he encountered a gang of bigots. (Two years earlier, while in Toronto for an International League game, Walker was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon — a gun. The charge later was dropped.)
Back in 1883, it was a Walker encounter with a famous bigot that helped set the stage for barring black players from professional baseball. Walker was catching for Toledo, then the Northwestern League front runners competing against teams in Bay City, East Saginaw and Grand Rapids, Michigan; Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Quincy, Peoria and Springfield, Illinois.
During the season Toledo had an exhibition game against the National League Chicago White Stockings. Chicago first baseman and manager Cap Anson (a future Hall of Famer) refused to take the field if Fleet Walker were in the game. From what I've read, Toledo manager Charlie Morton had intended to give Walker a rest, which was understandable. Catchers often needed a day off.
Anson's demand so annoyed Morton, that the Blue Stockings manager retaliated with a play-or-no-pay threat. If Anson wanted the money promised his team for its visit to Toledo, he knew what to do. So Anson caved, and Morton rubbed a little salt in his wound by playing Walker in right field, but Anson had the last laugh when his team won, 7-6.
As if that weren't enough, Toledo, during its American Association season in 1884, had another game scheduled against Anson's appropriately named White Stockings. This time Anson's demand was met — Walker didn't play, though the reason more likely was an injury that had kept him out of action for the previous few games.
Soon after that, Toledo released Walker, and the American Association became lily white for the rest of its life as a major league.
One school of thought blames baseball's racism on the Irish players who dominated the game in its early days. Among the Irish players were Anson and the pitcher who carried most of the load for Toledo in 1884 — Tony Mullane, a native of County Cork. The theory is the Irish were determined to carve out their place in the United States, and had claimed baseball diamonds as their turf. (John Thorn has written an interesting article on the subject.)
John R. Husman, in his piece about Fleet Walker for the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), devoted some space to Mullane's feelings toward Walker, as expressed to a reporter for the New York Age, which published this on January 11, 1919:
“Toledo once had a colored man who was declared by many to be the greatest catcher of the time and greater even than his contemporary, Buck Ewing. Tony Mullane … than whom no pitcher ever had more speed, was pitching for Toledo and he did not like to be the battery partner of a Negro.
“ 'He [Walker] was the best catcher I ever worked with, but I disliked the Negro and whenever I had to pitch to him I used to pitch anything I wanted without looking at his signals. One day he signaled me for a curve and I shot a fast ball at him. He caught it and came down to me. … He said, "I’ll catch you without signals, but I won’t catch you if you are going to cross me when I give you signals." And all the rest of that season he caught me and caught anything I pitched without knowing what was coming.' "
That makes for interesting reading, and certainly makes us believe life behind home plate was very difficult for Fleet Walker, but I don't believe the situation was quite the way Mullane described 35 years later.
In part, this is because the rules of the game in 1884 allowed batters to signal where they wanted the pitches thrown. Granted, I can't quite picture how this worked, and I hadn't thought about the possibilities until recently when I read Mullane's remarks and other things about the pitcher, who considered himself ambidextrous, and proved it by occasionally pitching left-handed. This was his decision, not something signaled by his catchers, mostly because he had little speed and even less control when he pretended he was a southpaw.
Supposedly Mullane deliberately threw pitches in the dirt when Walker was catching, which resulted in a lot of passed balls. Walker divided catching duties with Deacon McGuire. Walker had 72 passed balls in 42 games, McGuire had 66 passed balls in 45. McGuire went on to have an incredible 26-season career in the major leagues, so he was an excellent catcher. He also was Irish, but he had nearly as many passed balls as Walker, so I am not convinced Mullane was telling the truth in that newspaper interview, except that he didn't much like Walker.
I'm also thinking that when there was a runner on third base, hitters may have requested low pitches, hoping for a passed ball that would score the runner.
Something else was different about baseball back then — pitchers worked inside a box, not on top of a mound, and they were able to move within that box. "Grasshopper" Jim Whitney, a National League pitcher throughout the 1880s, used to do flips toward the batter before releasing the ball. This has me wondering about his poor catcher and whether signals were involved.
There's no doubt Fleet Walker was mistreated by teammates and opponents alike, but methinks stories about him and Tony Mullane are exaggerated.
Despite racial incidents, Toledo added a second colored player, Walker's brother, Welday. (Some insist on spelling his name without the "a," creating what appears to be a nickname for a welder.) Anyway, Welday filled in where needed in 1884, but was needed for only five games.
Toledo finished in eighth place. Walker's .263 batting average in 42 games was the third highest among Toledo hitters who had at least 100 at bats. Pitcher Mullane, who also played the outfield, batted .276. The team leader was second baseman Sam Barkley, who batted .306. As a possible indication of how mediocre the 1884 American Association was, in Barkley's only season in the National League, with Pittsburg, he batted only .224. That was in 1887 when bases on balls counted as hits, though I believe baseball-reference.com, where I found Barkley's statistics, had already deducted his 30 walks from his hit total. And that's no typo. In those days Pittsbugh was spelled without the h.
Another indication of quality comparison was the 1884 post-season, best-of-five series, in which the National League pennant winners, Providence, swept the American Association winners, New York, in three straight.
After dividing the 1885 season between Waterbury and Cleveland, Walker was back in Connecticut in 1886, playing for the Waterbury Brassmen of the Eastern League. His manager was Joe Simmons, who would figure in the Syracuse incident five years later. Other Eastern League teams were in Bridgeport, Hartford, Jersey City, Long Island, Meriden, Newark and Providence, which until the previous year had been in the National League.
Walker was one of three colored players in the Eastern League that season. The others were pitcher George Stovey of Jersey City and Frank Grant of Meriden.
Other colored players in the minors that season were Jack Frye, with Lewistown of the Pennsylvania State Association, and Fowler, with Topeka of the Western League.
About halfway through the season, Grant left Meriden and went to play for Buffalo of the International Association.
On July 24, 1886, the Syracuse Standard had this to say about Buffalo's newest player:
"Grant, the colored player, is a dandy. He covers an acre of ground, is quicker and spryer in his movements than any other player seen at Star Park, and to watch him play was the interesting point of the game. If there are any more colored players lying around, be they Chinamen, Malays or even Esquimaux (Eskimo), bring them to Syracuse if they can play ball like Grant. He was the favorite with the audience and was applauded on every slight provocation."
Grant would scoff at that last line, because he was the target of much abuse during his six seasons in the minor leagues. More than any other colored player of his era, Grant came closest to being signed by a National League team. He is widely regarded as the best second baseman of the 19th century, though he often played in the outfield because he had been deliberately spiked so often by runners sliding into second base. In 2008, Frank Grant was voted into the Hall of Fame.
To me, the most significant year in Fleet Walker's baseball career was 1887. He spent that summer with the Newark Little Giants of the International Association, which had no classification, but deserved major league status as least as much as the Union Association, which, admittedly, is not saying much. Both leagues had difficulty keeping some franchises alive, and three of the International Association's original ten teams — Oswego, Utica and Binghamton — folded before the season finished. Teams that hung in all season were the Toronto Canucks, Syracuse Stars, Buffalo Bisons, Rochester Maroons, Jersey City Skeeters, and Hamilton (Ontario) Hams.
Among the players in the International Association that season were Bones Ely, Chief Zimmer, Kid Gleason, Pop Schriver and Bill Hallman, all of whom had long and successful major league careers.
Of special note for Walker: He became part of professional baseball's first all-black battery. The pitcher was Stovey, the 21-year-old left-hander who, the year before, won 16 games with Jersey City of the Eastern League, losing 15.
Fans (or "cranks," as they were called at the time) responded well to the black battery, which Newark promoted even before the season began. Stovey pitched four exhibition games against major league teams. He lost all four games, but was impressive, especially against the National League New York Giants in a 3-2 defeat.
Stovey got off to a sensational start against International Association opponents, and after the first month, when they won 21 of 23 games, the Little Giants threatened to run away with the pennant.
The team with my favorite nickname — the Oswego Starchboxes — were so wretched it lost 23 of 26 games and dropped out of the league, replaced by the Scranton Miners. The league decided to delete results of all Oswego games.
However, when the Utica Pent Ups ended its season with a 12-40 record, all of its results remained on the books. Utica was replaced by the Wilkes-Barre Coal Barons, who had a 14-35 record.
The Binghamton Crickets folded after 77 games. The team had won 30 of them. No team replaced Binghamton and the results of its games also counted.
While those three failures indicate a league in chaos, the International Association had a great pennant race down the home stretch.
At least seven colored players played that season in the International Association, and three of them were among the league's best — Stovey of Newark, Grant of Buffalo, and Fowler, who had joined the Binghamton team. Late in the season, another Negro left-handed pitcher, Robert "Bob" Higgins, joined the Syracuse team and was a 20-game winner. Another colored player, of course, was Walker in Newark. Merl F. Kleinknecht, writing about 19th century black players for the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) also lists pitcher William Renfro and another pitcher named Pointer as playing for Binghamton. That's three colored players on one team — but not for long, which we'll get to shortly.
As you might expect, the presence of black players brought problems. Among them, another Cap Anson-Fleet Walker incident when the Chicago star (and manager) refused to take the field for an exhibition game against Newark on July 14. On that same day International Association officials ruled that no more colored players could be signed by any teams, and the league intended to be all-white in 1888.
White players on the Binghamton team petitioned to get rid of Fowler, who was so disgusted, he quit the team in late June. Renfro left soon afterward. Pointer had been let go several weeks earlier. But you know that saying about what goes around comes around. Shortly after Renfo left, and the Crickets became all-white, the team went out of existence. By this time Fowler had played a few games with the all-black Jersey Blues and gone to Montpelier, Vermont, to play in the Northeastern League. The Montpelier team elected Fowler its captain.
Stovey proved temperamental, and lost effectiveness as the season wore on. Toronto's Ed "Cannonball" Crane, a former outfielder, caught fire during the homestretch, and at one point the pitcher, who also was nicknamed "Bullet" Crane, beat Newark three times in two days as the Canucks rose from fourth place to first. Toronto won 20 games in September, the last month of the season, and lost only three.
Crane won 33 games and batted .425. Because of his hitting, he played the outfield when he wasn't pitching. Some sources list him as the league's leading hitter as well as one of its two outstanding pitchers, but official statistics for the International Association's 1887 season are unavailable or disregarded, perhaps because this was the year bases on balls counted as hits.
On October 2, the Syracuse Standard, in reviewing the 1887 season, had this to say:
The batting averages of the players are scarcely of as much value as in former years. Bases on balls are certainly not as valuable as actual hits except when no one is on a base, and they should not count as the same. Some system of scoring should be devised which shall allowed a proper credit for a sacrifice hit. Until this is done, the averages will continue to be somewhat unsatisfactory.
Stovey would have won 35 games, but two victories were erased from his record because they came at the expense of those Oswego Starchboxes. Had the Oswego games remained on the books, the only team affected would have been Buffalo, which finished in second place in the official league standings. If the Oswego games had counted, Buffalo would have dropped to fourth place. Toronto still would have won the pennant, with Syracuse moving from third to second, Newark from fourth to third.
Fleet Walker (standing, left) appears to be gazing off to his right in this photo of the 1888 Syracuse Stars. That's Bob Higgins (front, left), the team's other colored player, and manager Charlie Hacket in the suit.
I can't for certain identify the others, but my best guess is that (left to right) Ed Dundon,, Mox McQuery, Bones Ely and Bill Higgins are standing. In the middle row are Ollie Beard, Con Murphy, Rasty Wright, Hacket, Joe Battin and a mystery man. In front, on the right, is Al Schellhase. Reportedly two members of the team refused to be in the photo.
In October, the management of the Syracuse and Buffalo teams led a successful effort to overrule the league's ban on signing colored players. Buffalo was eager to re-sign Frank Grant, who'd been one of the outstanding International Association players in 1887, and Syracuse wanted to re-sign Higgins. Newark didn't re-sign Stovey, however, who had become difficult to handle. He played that year for Worcester of the Northeastern League. Walker could have joined Stovey in Worcester, but received a better offer from Syracuse, thus becoming half of the second all-black battery in professional baseball. But midway through the season, his pitcher, Higgins, tired of the racist attitude that prevailed in the league and among his teammates, including two who refused to pose with him for a team photo. So Higgins left the Stars after winning 17 games (against only seven losses).
This left the league with just two colored players — Grant, who led Buffalo with a .346 batting average, and Walker, who handled racial taunts differently, and endured. As a catcher, he had more than his share of injuries, but he played 77 of the team's 111 games.
Syracuse, led by pitcher Cornelius "Con" Murphy's 35 wins, finished in first place. Other International Association teams that season: the Albany Governors, Buffalo Bisons, Hamilton Hams, London (Ontario) Tecumsehs, Rochester Jingoes, Toronto Canucks and Troy Trojans.
Walker's lifetime statistics are incomplete. What is available on baseball-reference.com has him hitting just three home runs, all of them with the Syracuse team of 1888. One of those home runs came against Albany in the game that clinched the International Association pennant. Otherwise, he struggled at the plate, and batted just .170.
As luck would have it, there was yet another Walker-Anson showdown, this one in Syracuse on September 27, 1888. Charlie Hacket, the Syracuse manager, who had led the Newark team the season before, kept Walker on the bench that day. Working the game as the umpire was none other than Joe Simmons.
Players of note in the International Association that season were few; they included outfielder Patsy Donovan of the London team, who led the league in batting and went on to play 17 years in the major leagues and hit .301; second baseman Cupid Childs of Syracuse, who played 13 years in the majors, batting .306, and pitcher Stump Weidman, on his way down after winning 101 games (against 156) losses in the National League.
Despite his off year, Walker remained with Syracuse, now a member of the slightly renamed International League. Six teams returned in 1889. Missing were Albany and Troy, replaced by the Detroit Wolverines and an all-white team from Toledo originally nicknamed the Maumees, which was changed to the Black Pirates. Go figure.
Walker improved his batting average to .216, far behind the team leaders, second baseman Cupid Childs (.341) and outfielder Rasty Wright (.310). Murphy won 28 games, but the team finished second, behind Detroit.
In 1890, Syracuse had its second shot at major league status. The Stars had been a member of an unlikely National League line-up in 1879 that also included Buffalo, Providence and Troy. Now, 11 years later, the Stars were invited to join the American Association, nearing the end of its questionable status as a major league. The American Association no longer allowed colored players to participate, so the Stars let Walker go. He remained in Syracuse, however, and took that job as a mail clerk with New York Central. The Syracuse Daily Courier described the job as "one of the most responsible positions in the mail service, his duties being to handle registered letters."
Childs and Wright remained with the Stars and had almost the same batting averages in 1890 as they did the season before. Standings indicate Syracuse finished seventh in a nine-team league, but actually the Stars finished sixth in an eight-team league, ahead of Philadelphia and the combined efforts of Brooklyn and Baltimore, the later replacing the former with about a month left in the season.
The American Association was gasping, and Syracuse left in 1891 to play in the Eastern Association. Childs went to Cleveland to join a National League team, while Wright would spend the season bouncing from Detroit of the Northwestern League to St. Paul, Duluth and Omaha of the Western Association. But in April, Wright was still in Syracuse where he witnessed the shooting that took place two days before Fleet Walker stabbed "Curly" Murray. Wright was called to testify at the trial two months later.
About noon on April 9, 1891, Fleet Walker left his Syracuse home and went looking for Joe Simmons,who had played in the first professional baseball league, the National Association, and later managed Walker during his first season in Syracuse. Walker had a message for Simmons; it concerned the baseball team in Waterbury, Connecticut.
Walker stopped at a home to ask where the Simmons family lived. The woman who answered the door would later testify about why Walker was out walking that day. So would Mrs. Simmons, who answered when Walker knocked on her door a few minutes later.
His next stop was a saloon that Simmons frequented, but he wasn't there. Walker ran into a man who had seen Walker play a few times. This fan suggested he and Walker have a beer, and Walker thought that was a good idea. His fruitless search had made him thirsty. Walker said he and the man talked baseball, and that during their conversation he had had no more than three beers, not enough to get him drunk.
It was about four o'clock when he renewed his search for Simmons, but that was forgotten when he encountered a gang of men who wondered what a colored fellow was doing in their neighborhood. Only they did not refer to him as a colored fellow. They also asked hot he got such nice clothes. (Walker was wearing a suit and a derby hat.) They apparently did not recognize Walker as the man who had been a catcher for two seasons on the local pro baseball team.
Insults were exchanged, but Walker attempted to walk away before things got uglier. He was about halfway across the street when a rock smashed the back of his head. Dazed, Walker turned and saw a man charging toward him. He sidestepped the man, but found himself confronted by another of the gang that had taunted him. At that point, Walker pulled a knife. He was a postal worker and said the knife was one he used to cut open packages at work. Which was most likely true, but Walker was no stranger to tense, racially-charged situations, so he carried the knife even when there were no packages to open.
He lunged forward with the knife, sticking it into the stomach of Patrick "Curly" Murray. The rest of the white men stepped back, and the fatally wounded Murray staggered to the nearby home of a relative. Witnesses said Walker pursued Murray, but the ballplayer said he was so woozy from being hit by the rock that he couldn't remember what he did at that point.
By this time a crowd was gathering, but police were quickly summoned. In those days, patrolmen walked a beat, and one of them arrived very soon after the stabbing. Minutes later a patrol wagon arrived. Walker was arrested, statements were taken from witnesses.
Seven weeks later Walker was tried for murder — and found not guilty. The prosecution's case was presented rather half-heartedly. The victim had a record, and though he was related to the alderman who represented his district, he had no influence with police, who had a photo of Murray in their rogue's gallery.
One of the witnesses to the affair was a cousin, also named Patrick Murray, who was also known as Patsy and the more colorful nickname, "Boodle." Walker's defense attorney knew something was amiss during the trial when "Boodle" wasn't called to testify. This was taken as a sign that Walker's version of events was correct, it was a case of self-defense. The jury agreed.
When the "not guilty" verdict was announced, there was so much celebrating among spectators that the judge, George N. Kennedy, shouted for order and slammed down his gavel so hard that the mallet separated from the handle. However, the newspapers made it clear the judge wasn't actually upset; when he threatened to arrest the noisemakers in attendance, he did so with a slight smile on his face. In the minds of many, it was Judge Kennedy's detailed instructions about what constituted justifiable homicide that practically guaranteed Walker's acquittal.
Weeks later, Walker, who had a wife and three children, temporarily left his position in the mail room of the New York Central Railroad and, according to baseball-reference.com, briefly resumed his baseball career in Wisconsin. It was his last hurrah.
In one of those odd, ships-passing-in-the-night situations, one of Walker's teammates in Oconto, Wisconsin, was outfielder George Treadway, who two years later would join the Baltimore Orioles, and then be dealt to the Brooklyn Grooms of the National League. In 1894 he batted .330 and drove in 102 runs, though those figures aren't as impressive as they seem because it was a hit-crazy season.
Still, Treadway seemed on his way to a long career in the major leagues until a disgruntled former Baltimore teammate started a rumor that Treadway was a colored man, passing for white. This was proven to be untrue, but the rumor wouldn't die, and he was out of the National League after playing two games for Louisville in 1896. He was only 28 at the time.
He played minor league ball for two seasons, quit professional baseball, but returned in 1902 and played for three seasons out West.
After finally retiring from baseball, Walker moved to Steubenville,, Ohio, a few miles northeast of the village where he was born in 1856, Mount Pleasant. According to the SABR article by John R. Husman, Walker went to work for the post office. His wife, Arabella, who had been at his side throughout his trial in Syracuse, died of cancer in 1895. Three years later he married Ednah Mason, who had been a classmate at Oberlin College. That same year he was convicted of mail robbery. He served a year in a federal prison, then returned to Steubenville, and with his brother, Welday, operated the Union Hotel.
In 1904 he moved a few miles to the southwest to become manager of the Opera House in Cadiz, Ohio. The Opera House offered a variety of entertainment, including movies. Husman says Walker patented three inventions for improving the changing of movie reels.
He and Welday also edited a newspaper, The Equator, which dealt with black issues. Out of that came a 47-page book, "Our Home Colony," in which Walker despaired of peaceful integration, warned of possible genocide, and said the best option might be for blacks to return to Africa.
Ednah Walker died in 1920, prompting Walker to move to Cleveland, where he had played baseball for the Cleveland Forest Cities of the Western League in 1885. Brother Welday, who played five games that season for Cleveland — getting nine hits, including a home run — joined his brother, and the operated the Temple Theater.
Fleet Walker died on May 11, 1924 of lobar pneumonia, at the age of 67. He was no Jackie Robinson, but he and a group of other talented and courageous baseball players will always be reminders of how much a Jackie Robinson was needed.
In search of additional information about Joe Simmons, I came upon an interesting story by Jon Springer, which contained something that falls into what I call the "Yes, But Not Really" category, which contains all references to the 1884 American Association being a major league.
When the 1884 baseball season began, Simmons was managing the Wilmington, Delaware, Quicksteps in the Eastern League. His team won the pennant, and then Simmons and his Qucksteps plugged a hole in the rapidly sinking Union Association, which needed a team to replace the late departing Philadelphia Keystones. Wilmington played 18 games, and lost 16 of them. One of the defeats was a home game decided by a glance at the stands — they were empty, so Simmons decided to forfeit.
Yet the Quicksteps are recalled as the only major league baseball team in Delaware history. (This is the "Yes, But Not Really" part of the story.
There were excuses for Wilmington's poor showing in a mediocre "major league." Two of the team's best hitters, Dennis Casey and Oyster Burns, played only two games in the Union Association; both took better jobs with Baltimore of the American Association. Quicksteps' pitcher, Dan Casey, who had been 10-2 in the Eastern League, likewise pitched only two games in the Union Association, and had a 1-1 record.
Also on the Wilmington team was a player with one of my favorite nicknames, Edward Sylvester "The Only" Nolan, who had been 19-5 in the Eastern League. He lost four of five decisions in the Union Association, which was par for Nolan, because he had pitched previously in the National League and American Association and in those three seasons had a 22-43 record.
Not mentioned in the Springer story is another "Yes, But Not Really" accomplishment in Simmons' career. He managed the Keokuk, Iowa, Westerns in the National Association in 1875. This was another bogus major league, limping through its final season. But, technically, it was Iowa's only major league baseball team. Their record: one win, 12 losses, which means as a "major league" manager, Simmons' record was three wins, 28 losses. (One of his players in Keokuk was baseball's first slugger, Charley Jones.)
Simmons, the son of French immigrants, was born Joseph S. Chabriel. Apparently the S stood for Simon, which gave him the idea for the last name he used when he began playing baseball. Originally, cricket was his game.
Springer's article says Simmons worked various jobs in the off-season, everything from cook to furniture polisher to carriage driver. He also was an umpire until he was struck in the eye by baseball in 1889, which impaired his vision from then on.
He died in 1901 in Jersey City. He was only 56.