John W. “Bud” Fowler (1858-1913)

Image Ownership: Public Domain

Born John W. Jackson, in Fort Plain, New York, on March 16, 1858, Fowler spent much of his boyhood in Cooperstown, N.Y. where organized baseball maintains its Hall of Fame and museum. Coincidentally Fowler is argued to be one of the first professional black baseball players, when in 1872 he joined a white team in New Castle, Pennsylvania for a salary.  For the next two and a half decades, Fowler played across the country where black players were allowed to play, from Massachusetts to Colorado and briefly in Canada. He played in crossroad farm towns and in mining camps, in pioneer Western settlements and in larger Eastern cities.  Like many ball players of his day, Fowler could play most any position, but it was as a second baseman and pitcher where he excelled at best.  His habit of calling teammates and other players “Bud” led to his nickname.

Organized baseball was just being structured during the turn of the century and Fowler was one of sixty black players who played in white leagues across the country. In the early days of baseball there was no official color line, and he played in organized baseball with white ball clubs until the color line became entrenched around 1900. Until 1895 Fowler he was usually the only black player on an all-white team.

Racial prejudice led Fowler and other players to organize the Page Fence Giants in Adrian, Michigan in 1895.  There they played other Negro and all-white teams. In an era where entire baseball leagues often broke up in the middle of a season as economics overcame civic pride and cities were forced to disband their teams, Fowler’s teams disbanded numerous times during the course of his career. It was also difficult for him to find teams that would take him in, because of the color of his skin. Many sports writers at the turn of the century believed he would have been on some good ball clubs had it not been for his race. He was praised for his athleticism at second base and fine base running techniques.  John “Bud” Fowler died in Frankfort, New York on February 26, 1913.

Source:

Ralph J. Christian, “Bud Fowler: The First African American Professional Baseball Payer and the 1885 Keokuks,” Iowa Heritage Illustrated 87:1 (2006); Robert Peterson, Only the Ball Was White (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970); Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston, eds., Dictionary of American Negro Biography (New York: W.W. Norton, 1982)