The name Arthur T. Packard was called out over the diploma line at the University of Michigan in 1882. As the young man came up to accept it, he didn’t realize he was halfway between friendships with two others who would be remembered in American history. One was Theodore Roosevelt; and the other, Moses Fleetwood Walker, the first black man to play major league baseball.
The Toledo Blue Stockings of 1884: Fleet, seated left; Weldy, back row.
Fleet studied law at the university, but when baseball season rolled around, he was ready, batting .308 and helping the team to a 10-3 record. That summer he joined the Toledo Blue Stockings of the Northwestern League. (In 1881, he had been paid to catch a few games for the White Sewing Machine Company team in Cleveland). His younger brother Weldy also played for Michigan and Toledo. Fleet never graduated from college like Arthur Packard, but he did make as much as $2,000 a season from his sport. Some of the cities in his league included Peoria, Quincy, and Springfield, Illinois; Bay City and Grand Rapids, Michigan; and Fort Wayne, Indiana.
In April 1885 he was in a game in Kentucky, and promptly arrested as a representative of the team for breaking a Sunday no-play rule. Released on bail, he sat in the courtroom ten days later and listened to the hearing. The judge noted that the report was the game had been a good one. “Yes, it was,” the county prosecutor replied. “I was there!” The case was decided in the team’s favor.
Fleet played for six years, ending his career with a team in Toronto called the Syracuse Stars. Manager Cap Anson of the Chicago White Stockings obnoxiously forbid his players on several occasions to share the field with a black man. By all accounts Fleet was a class act, a gentlemen, a charmer who would show kids how to hold their hands while catching to prevent broken fingers and thumbs.
After baseball, his trajectory went up: owning a theater, writing a well-regarded book called Our Home Colony, and getting a patent on an artillery shell. Then it took a downward turn: accusations of mail fraud and the murder of another man by stabbing which resulted in one jail sentence and one acquittal. He was married twice, but his children had none of their own, so there are no direct descendents today. A grand-nephew and grand-niece attended a memorial service when a headstone was placed over his grave in Steubenville, Ohio, in 1990. It was his induction into the John Heisman Club’s Hall of Fame at Oberlin College.