Bud Fowler, the first professional black baseball player with one of his teams, the Keokuk, Iowa team of the Western League
|Born||John W. Fowler
March 16, 1858
Fort Plain, New York
|Died||February 26, 1913
Frankfort, New York
|Known for||Professional baseball player|
|Home town||Cooperstown, New York|
John W. "Bud" Fowler (March 16, 1858 – February 26, 1913) was an African-American baseball player, field manager, and club organizer. He is the earliest known African-American player in organized professional baseball; that is, the major leagues and affiliated minor leagues. He played more seasons and more games in Organized Baseball than any African American until Jackie Robinson played his 11th season in 1956.
Fowler was "born John W. Jackson, the son of a fugitive hop-picker and barber" (Riley 1994, 294). In 1859, his family moved from Fort Plain, New York, to Cooperstown, and he learned baseball there. Why he selected the name Bud Fowler is unknown. According to biographer L. Robert Davids, he gained the nickname "Bud" because he called the other players by that name.
The earliest known newspaper identification of Fowler as a player is in April 1878, when he pitched for a team in Chelsea, Massachusetts. Later that month, he pitched a game for the Lynn Live Oaks against Boston of the National League. He finished that season with the Worcester club. Largely supporting himself as a barber, he continued to play for teams in New England and Canada for the next four years.
Cooperstown, N.Y. declared April 20, 2013 "Bud Fowler Day," dedicating a plaque and presenting an exhibit by The Cooperstown Graduate Program in his honor at Doubleday Field. The street leading to the Field has also been named "Fowler Way." 
Keokuk, Iowa had not had a professional baseball team since 1875. However, in 1885, local businessman R. W. "Nick" Curtis became the main individual behind starting a new team as well as the man who decided to hire Bud Fowler. Johnny Peters, the manager of the then-disbanded Stillwater, Minnesota team, helped Fowler get connected with the new team in Keokuk.
Fowler eventually became the most popular player on the Keokuk team. The local newspaper, the Keokuk Gate City and Constitution, said of him, "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."
He also commented to the local newspaper on the problems with the reserve clause, the contractual mechanism that allowed teams to hold on to players for their entire career. Fowler stated, "...when a ball player signs a league contract they can do anything with him under its provisions but hang him."
Final Playing Days
The Western League that Keokuk played in eventually folded that season due to financial reasons and Fowler ended up playing on a team in Pueblo, Colorado. He played for a team in Topeka, Kansas in 1886. That team won the pennant behind Fowler's .309 average. He also led the league in triples. Eventually, Fowler moved to Binghamton, New York and played on a team there until racial tensions arose and his teammates would not play with him any longer.
Fowler died in Frankfort, New York, on February 26, 1913, after a time of illness and poverty that received national attention. His grave was unmarked until 1987, when the Society for American Baseball Research placed a memorial on it to remember his success as the first professional African American baseball player.
He is referred to in Marilynne Robinson's novel Gilead.
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- , "Acclaim Comes Late for Baseball Pioneer" NY Times
- Christian, Ralph J. (2006). "Bud Fowler: The First African American Professional Baseball Player and the 1885 Keokuks". Iowa Heritage Illustrated 87(1): 28-32.
- "Pounded at 'Haha", Minneapolis Journal, Minneapolis, MN, April 22, 1895, Page 6, Column 3
- 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.
- 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
- Fowler: A 19th-century baseball pioneer, Minor League Baseball. 2009-02-09.
Laing, Jeff. (2013). Bud Fowler: Baseball's First Black Professional. Jefferson, NC: McFarland. ISBN 978-0-7864-7264-2
- (Riley.) John "Bud" Fowler, Personal profiles at Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. – identical to Riley (confirmed 2010-04-13)