Bud Fowler

Bud Fowler (March 16, 1858 – February 26, 1913), born "John W. Jackson", was an American baseball player, manager, and club organizer. He is the earliest known African-American player in organized professional baseball. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2022.

Bud Fowler
P / C / IF / OF / Manager
Born: (1858-03-16)March 16, 1858
Fort Plain, New York
Died: February 26, 1913(1913-02-26) (aged 54)
Frankfort, New York
Batted: Right
Threw: Right
Negro leagues debut
1895, for the Page Fence Giants
Last appearance
1898, for the Cuban Giants
Member of the National
Baseball Hall of Fame
Election methodEarly Baseball Era Committee

Early life

The son of a fugitive hop-picker and barber, Bud Fowler was christened John W. Jackson.[1] His father had escaped from slavery and migrated to New York. In 1859, his family moved from Fort Plain, New York, to Cooperstown. He learned to play baseball during his youth in Cooperstown. Biographer L. Robert Davids writes that he was nicknamed "Bud" because he called the other players by that name.

Professional baseball career

Early career

Fowler first played for an all-white professional team based out of New Castle, Pennsylvania, in 1872, when he was 14 years old.[2][3][4] He is documented as playing for another professional team on July 21, 1877, when he was 19.[5] On April 24, 1878, he pitched a game for the Picked Nine, who defeated the Boston Red Caps, champions of the National League in 1877.[6] He pitched some more for the Chelsea team, then finished that season with the Worcester club.

Largely supporting himself as a barber, Fowler continued to play for baseball teams in New England and Canada for the next four years. He then moved to the Midwest. In 1883, Fowler played for a team in Niles, Ohio; in 1884, he played for Stillwater, Minnesota, in the Northwestern League.


Fowler (top row, center) with the Keokuk, Iowa team of the Western League in 1885

In Keokuk, Iowa, there had not been a professional baseball team since 1875. However, in 1885, local businessman R. W. "Nick" Curtis was the chief force behind starting a new team and hired Fowler for it. Johnny Peters, the manager of the then-disbanded Stillwater, Minnesota team, helped Fowler get connected with the new team in Keokuk, the Keokuk Hawkeyes.

Fowler became the most popular player on the Keokuk team. The local newspaper, the Keokuk Gate City and Constitution, described him as "a good ball player, a hard worker, a genius on the ball field, intelligent, gentlemanly in his conduct and deserving of the good opinion entertained for him by base ball admirers here." Fowler also commented to the local newspaper on issues with the "reserve clause," the contractual mechanism that allowed teams to hold on to players for their entire career. Fowler stated that "when a ball player signs a league contract they can do anything with him under its provisions but hang him."[7]

The Western League folded that season due to financial reasons, leaving Keokuk without a league, and Fowler was released.

Later career

Fowler moved to play with a team in Pueblo, Colorado. In 1886, he played for a team in Topeka, Kansas. That team won the pennant behind Fowler's .309 average. He also led the league in triples. In 1887, Fowler moved to Binghamton, New York and played on a team there. Racial tensions arose, and his teammates refused to continue playing with him. In 1888, he played for the Crawfordsville Hoosiers/Terre Haute Hoosiers. Fowler played for the 1890 Sterling Blue Coats / Galesburg Pavers / Burlington Hawkeyes, as the Illinois-Iowa League franchise relocated twice. In 1892, Fowler played for Kearney, Nebraska in the Nebraska State League. In 1893 and 1894 he played on the integrated ballclub called the Findlay Sluggers.

In the summer of 1894 Fowler and Home Run Johnson, along with three white businessmen, Len Hoch, Howard and Rolla Taylor, formed the Page Fence Giants in Adrian, Michigan.[8] Fowler played second base for the 1895 Giants but was moved to right field when the team signed Sol White to play that position in June 1895. Fowler apparently had a falling out with the management team and by June 1895, both Fowler and Johnson were simply referred to as salaried players and not members of the ownership group. Fowler played about another month with the Page Fence club and then finished the season with one game with the Michigan State League member Adrian Demons and about 30 games with another MSL team, the Lansing Senators squad. From 1894 to 1904, Fowler played and/or managed the Page Fence Giants,[9] Cuban Giants, Smoky City Giants, All-American Black Tourists, and Kansas City Stars.

According to baseball historian James A. Riley, Fowler played 10 seasons of organized baseball, "a record [for an African American player] until broken by Jackie Robinson in his last season with the Brooklyn Dodgers."[1]

Later life and legacy

Fowler died in Frankfort, New York, on February 26, 1913. In his last years, he suffered from illness and poverty, which was covered by national media. His grave was unmarked.

In 1987, the Society for American Baseball Research placed a memorial on his grave to memorialize and honor his successes as the first professional African-American baseball player.[7] Cooperstown, New York, declared April 20, 2013, as "Bud Fowler Day," dedicating a plaque and presenting an exhibit in his honor at Doubleday Field (it was prepared by The Cooperstown Graduate Program). The street leading to the Field has been named "Fowler Way."[10] On July 29, 2020, the Society for American Baseball Research announced that Bud Fowler was selected as SABR’s Overlooked 19th Century Base Ball Legend of 2020 — a 19th-century player, manager, executive or other baseball personality not yet inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

On November 5, 2021, he was selected to the final ten for the Early Days Committee for consideration in the Class of 2022 in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. He would need to receive twelve out of sixteen votes on ballots cast by the members of the committee. His election was announced on December 5, 2021,[11][12] and he was formally enshrined on July 24, 2022, with fellow Hall of Famer Dave Winfield delivering a speech on his behalf.[13]

See also


  1. Riley, James A. (1994). "Fowler, John W. (Bud)". The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues. Carroll & Graf. pp. 294–95. ISBN 0-7867-0959-6.
  2. White, Sol; Schlicter, H. Walter, ed; Malloy, Jerry (1907; 1995). Sol White's History of Colored Baseball, with other documents of the early Black game 1886–1936. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press. pp. 74, 76. ISBN 9780803297838. "In no other profession has the color line been drawn more rigidly than in base ball. As far back as 1872 the first colored ball player of note playing on a white team was Bud Fowler, the celebrated promoter of colored ball clubs, and the sage of base ball. Bud played on a New Castle team that year."
  3. Morse, George C. (September 1946). "Iron Men of Baseball: Strenuous grind faces Negro players now on the brink of major league recognition". Negro Digest. p. 24
  4. Rader, Benjamin G. (2008). Baseball : a history of America's game (3rd ed.). Urbana: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0-252-03302-5.
  5. Queen, Frank, ed. (July 21, 1877). "Our Boys vs. Franklin" (PDF). New York Clipper. Vol. 25, no. 17. New York City, NY. p. 131. Retrieved December 5, 2014.
  6. Queen, Frank, ed. (May 4, 1878). "Boston vs. Picked Nine" (PDF). New York Clipper. Vol. 26, no. 6. New York City, NY. p. 45. Retrieved December 5, 2014.
  7. Christian, Ralph J. (2006). "Bud Fowler: The First African American Professional Baseball Player and the 1885 Keokuks". Iowa Heritage Illustrated 87(1): 28-32.
  8. "Page Fence Giants". Baseball History Daily. Retrieved February 24, 2014.
  9. "18950422MinneapolisJournal.pdf". Google Docs.
  10. "Acclaim Comes Late for Baseball Pioneer", New York Times
  11. "Early Baseball, Golden Days Era Committee Ballots Announced". Baseball Hall of Fame (Press release).
  12. Owens, George (December 6, 2021). "Upstate NY native Bud Fowler, first Black pro baseball player, makes Hall of Fame". The Post-Standard. Retrieved December 31, 2021.
  13. Randhawa, Manny. "Bud Fowler takes his place among baseball's immortals". mlb.com. MLB Advanced Media, LP. Retrieved July 25, 2022.

Further reading



  • Peterson, Robert (1970; 1992). Only the Ball was White: A History of Legendary Black Players and All-Black Professional Teams. New York: McGraw-Hill. pp. 18–21. ISBN 978-0-19-507637-0
  • Davids, L. Robert (1989). "John Fowler (Bud)". Nineteenth Century Stars. Edited by Robert L. Tiemann and Mark Rucker. Kansas City, MO: SABR. ISBN 0-910137-35-8
  • Laing, Jeff. (2013). Bud Fowler: Baseball's First Black Professional. Jefferson, NC: McFarland. ISBN 978-0-7864-7264-2
  • Lutzke, Mitch. (2018) The Page Fence Giants, A History of Black Baseball's Pioneering Champions. Jefferson, N.C. McFarland Publishing Company. ISBN 978-1-4766-7165-9
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