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.
Early life and education
In 1858 Fowler was "born 'John W. Jackson,' the son of a fugitive hop-picker and barber" (Riley 1994, 294) in 1858. His father had escaped from slavery and reached New York. In 1859, his family moved from Fort Plain, New York, to Cooperstown. Growing up as a child there, he learned baseball. Why he selected the name Bud Fowler is unknown. According to biographer L. Robert Davids, he was nicknamed "Bud" because he called the other players by that name.
Fowler first played for an all-white professional team based out of New Castle, Pennsylvania in 1872, when he was 14 years old. He is documented as playing for another professional team early in 1878, when he was 20. 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. 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 moved into the Midwest. In 1883, Fowler played for a team in Niles, Ohio; in 1884, he played for Stillwater, Minnesota, in the Northwestern League; Keokuk Indians in Iowa, 1885 and, in 1888, he played for a team in Terre Haute, Indiana.
Keokuk, Iowa had not had 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 Bud Fowler for it. Johnny Peters, the manager of the then-disbanded Stillwater, Minnesotateam, helped Fowler get connected with the new team in Keokuk.
Fowler 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 issues 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 folded that season due to financial reasons, leaving Keokuk without a league. Fowler was released and 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. Eventually, 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 1895, he and Home Run Johnson formed the Page Fence Giants in Adrian, Michigan. From 1894-1904, Fowler played and/or managed the Page Fence Giants, Cuban Giants, the Smoky City Giants, the All-American Black Tourists, and the Kansas City Stars.
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.
Legacy and honors
- 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.
- 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."
- Cooperstown, N.Y. 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." 
- He is referred to in Marilynne Robinson's novel Gilead.
- Rader, Benjamin G. (2008). Baseball : a history of America's game (3rd ed.). Urbana: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0-252-03302-5.
- Queen, Frank, ed. (21 July 1877). "Our Boys vs. Franklin." (PDF). New York Clipper 25 (17) (New York City, NY). p. 131. Retrieved 5 December 2014.
- Queen, Frank, ed. (4 May 1878). "Boston vs. Picked Nine." (PDF). New York Clipper 26 (6) (New York City, NY). p. 45. Retrieved 5 December 2014.
- Christian, Ralph J. (2006). "Bud Fowler: The First African American Professional Baseball Player and the 1885 Keokuks". Iowa Heritage Illustrated 87(1): 28-32.
- "Page Fence Giants". Baseball History Daily. Retrieved February 24, 2014.
- "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.
- "Acclaim Comes Late for Baseball Pioneer", New York Times
- 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)
- "Belated honors for pioneering black ballplayer Bud Fowler," by JIM ANDERSON, Minneapolis Star Tribune, February 27, 2013
- "Acclaim Comes Late for Baseball Pioneer," by HILLEL KUTTLER, The New York Times, April 14, 2013
- Career minor league stats at Baseball-Reference