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1888 Syracuse Stars Base Ball Club Team Cabinet Card with Moses Fleetwood Walker
Starting Bid - $1,000.00 , Sold For - $8,225.00
Exceedingly rare and historically significant team cabinet card of the 1888 Syracuse Stars featuring Moses Fleetwood Walker, the first black ballplayer in Major League history. Graded 50 VG/EX by SGC. The formal studio cabinet-card photograph pictures thirteen uniformed members of the club posing together, including Walker and Robert Higgins, another black ballplayer who had joined the Stars the previous season. Each of the players is identified in white lettering in the foreground as part of the photo. The name of the photographer, "Ryder," is printed on the cabinet-card mount and on the reverse with elaborate advertising for the studio. This is one of only two known team studio cabinet photos of the 1888 Syracuse Stars; however, it is the more desirable of the two due to the fact that on this example the players are identified as part of the design of the card (not the case on the other example). It is interesting to note that a remarkably similar photo of the 1888 Syracuse Stars (taken at the exact same time and place, with players in very slightly different poses) appears in Sol White's significant and informative book, History of Colored Base Ball, published in 1907 (White's book is the single most important reference work known regarding the early history of black baseball). This card is a new discovery. It was found in late 2007 by a Syracuse antique dealer in a collection of miscellaneous (non-baseball) cabinet photographs. To find such an important and previously unseen cabinet card by chance is truly remarkable.
Moses Walker's professional career began in 1883 when he signed with the Toledo Blue Stockings, a team in the Northwestern League. The following season, Toledo joined the American Association, a Major League that formed in 1882 as a rival to the National League. Thus, with Toledo's entry into the American Association, Walker became the first black player in Major League history. Later in the year, his brother Weldy also joined the club. The following season the Toledo club folded due to financial problems, thereby ending the Major League careers of both Walker and his brother. They would remain the only black players in Major League history until Jackie Robinson debuted with the Dodgers in 1947. Walker continued to play ball in a number of integrated minor leagues over the next few years; however, the overt racism of the time, of both fans and players, soon led to the abolition of integration in organized baseball. The most important event leading to the ban on black ballplayers in organized baseball occurred on July 14, 1887, and involved Walker. On that date the Chicago White Stockings, managed by Cap Anson, were scheduled to play an exhibition game against Newark, whose members included Walker and another black player named George Stovey. Anson, baseball's reigning superstar at the time as well as an affirmed racist, would not allow his team to take the field unless Walker and Stovey were removed from the lineup. Anson's influence at the time was so great that his demands were quickly met by the Newark club. On that same night, galvanized by Anson's defiant stance, team owners voted to adopt a new resolution that would ban the signing of any new black ballplayers. Organized baseball's "Gentlemen's Agreement" to not allow black ballplayers to play in the same leagues as white ballplayers evolved overnight into an accepted formal policy, supported by the most powerful ruling forces of organized baseball. Walker, who left the league in 1889, would be the last black player to play in the International League until 1946.
Walker joined Syracuse in 1888 and played with the team for two seasons before the "Gentlemen's Agreement" effectively ended his career. One of the main reasons the club signed Walker, aside from his obvious talents as a catcher, was due to the problems the club experienced the previous season regarding black ballplayer Robert Higgins. Higgins was a talented pitcher who joined the Stars in 1887, but he endured harsh treatment from his teammates. During his second start with the club, on May 5th in Toronto, the fielders intentionally muffed balls in an effort to have Higgins taken out of the game. The team lost 28-8 (twenty-one of the runs were unearned) and the following day the Toronto World newspaper made note of the farce by issuing the headline "Disgraceful Baseball." The Sporting News offered a different headline: "The Syracuse Plotters." On June 4, two of the Syracuse players, outfielder Henry Simon and pitcher Doug Crothers (neither of whom is pictured in the offered cabinet), refused to appear in the official team picture with Higgins. Crothers, whose refusal was punctuated by a fist fight with team manager Joe Simmons, was initially suspended for the year. He was briefly reinstated before being given his outright release on July 2nd. Simon was not punished for his action, but, as the local papers noted at the time, he was far more valuable to the team than Crothers and thus his offense against Higgins was overlooked. Simmons didn't return as manager the following year, so the Stars turned to Charlie Hackett, who had managed the all-black battery of George Stovey and Fleetwood Walker the previous season at Newark (where Anson took his "defiant stance"). Hackett realized that Higgins would feel more comfortable pitching to a black ballplayer, so he brought Walker with him to Syracuse. The move obviously paid off, as Syracuse won the International League championship in 1888. The following season Higgins grew weary of the racial unrest and left the club at mid season. Walker finished the year but, like all other black ballplayers, was banned from organized baseball the following season. The short period of integration had officially ended.
The photograph (5.25 x 3.75 inches) is marked by varying degrees of clarity and contrast, apparently as made. Fortunately, the left side of the photo, featuring Walker and Higgins, remains crisp and clear, and the image of each player remains beautifully preserved. The mount (6.5 x 4.25 inches) is bright and clean, with just a slight hint of foxing on the reverse, and overall in Excellent condition. There were very few integrated professional baseball teams in the nineteenth century and photos of such clubs are extremely rare. Further accounting for their rarity is the fact that often the white players of the team refused to sit for a team photo if any of their black teammates were included (as happened with the Syracuse Stars in 1887 and very likely with X and Y in this very photo in 1888). The fact that this photo pictures Fleetwood Walker, the most prominent and historically significant black ballplayer of the nineteenth century (as well as his black teammate Robert Higgins), makes this one of the most important nineteenth-century baseball team cabinet photographs in existence. Encapsulated and graded 50 VG/EX by SGC. Reserve $1,000. Estimate (open). SOLD FOR $8,225.00
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