Bud Fowler

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For the Canadian football player, see Bud Fowler (Canadian football).
Bud Fowler
1885 Keokuk, Iowa baseball team featuring Bud Fowler.jpg
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
(1858-03-16)March 16, 1858
Fort Plain, New York
Died February 26, 1913(1913-02-26) (aged 54)
Frankfort, New York
Nationality American
Ethnicity African American
Years active 1877–1895
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.

Fowler first played for an all-white professional team based out of New Castle, Pennsylvania in 1872.[1] He is also documented as playing for another professional team early in 1878.[2] 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.[3] He pitched some more for the Chelsea team then 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.

In 1883, Fowler played for a team in Niles, Ohio; in 1884, he played for Stillwater, Minnesota, in the Northwestern League; and, in 1888, he played for a team in Terre Haute, Indiana.

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." [4]


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."[5]

Final Playing Days[edit]

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.

In 1895, he and Home Run Johnson formed the Page Fence Giants in Adrian, Michigan.[6] From 1894-1904, Fowler played and/or managed the Page Fence Giants,[7] Cuban Giants, the Smoky City Giants, the All-American Black Tourists, and the Kansas City Stars.

Death and legacy[edit]

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.[5]

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."[8]

He is referred to in Marilynne Robinson's novel Gilead.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Rader, Benjamin G. (2008). Baseball : a history of America's game (3rd ed.). Urbana: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0-252-03302-5. 
  2. ^ 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. 
  3. ^ 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. 
  4. ^ [1], "Acclaim Comes Late for Baseball Pioneer" NY Times
  5. ^ a b Christian, Ralph J. (2006). "Bud Fowler: The First African American Professional Baseball Player and the 1885 Keokuks". Iowa Heritage Illustrated 87(1): 28-32.
  6. ^ "Page Fence Giants". Baseball History Daily. Retrieved February 24, 2014. 
  7. ^ "Pounded at 'Haha", Minneapolis Journal, Minneapolis, MN, April 22, 1895, Page 6, Column 3
  8. ^ 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. 

Further reading[edit]

  • 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)

External links[edit]