•baseball's color line
Text written by Albert Kilchesty
Cap Brand (private collection)
“Get that nigger off the field!” With one sentence Cap Anson (1852‒1922), player-manager of the NL’s Chicago White Stockings, drew a line in the sand that wouldn’t be crossed for sixty-three years. The virulent racist was referring to Moses Fleetwood Walker (1856‒1924), a college educated African-American who had the temerity to consider himself Anson’s equal. Walker and his brother Welday played for the Toledo club of the American Association, the short-lived professional league that battled the National League for the hearts and minds of fans in the 1880s. Widely cited as the first black athletes to play major league baseball, the Walker brothers were part of the burgeoning black middle-class in the urban North. During warm-ups before an exhibition game in 1884, Anson went ballistic when he saw Fleet Walker, prompting the famous outburst above. Threatening to boycott the contest if Walker stayed, Anson demanded he be removed. He was. This would be the last time an African-American would take the field in the major leagues until Jackie Robinson did so for the Dodgers in 1947.
Wily John McGraw had a superb talent for identifying and nurturing baseball talent. The feisty field general of the New York Giants during the first decades of the twentieth century, McGraw wasn’t above using chicanery to achieve his ends. While others occasionally tried unsuccessfully to pass off black players as “Indian” or “Cuban” to skirt baseball’s segregation policy, McGraw came within a whisker of actually doing it. During spring training in Hot Springs, Arkansas in 1901, McGraw discovered a light-skinned African-American second baseman, Charlie Grant, who was working as a bellhop in one of the resort’s hotels. McGraw signed him and billed him as “Chief Tokohama, a full-blooded Cherokee Indian.” The ruse worked for a short time until Charlie Comiskey, penurious owner of the Chicago White Sox, recognized Grant as a former player for a Chicago-area team. Needless to say, Grant never appeared in a major league game.