The Mohawk Valley Baseball Hall of Fame is proud to announce that its third inductee to the Class of 2019 is John W. “Bud” Fowler, the earliest known professional baseball player of African-American descent. The ceremony will take place at the Travel Lodge in Little Fall, NY on April 12, 2019. Former National League Most Valuable Player George Foster will be the keynote speaker.
Fowler, a native of Fort Plain, played more seasons and more games in organized baseball than any other African American until Jackie Robinson finally broker the game’s color barrier once and for all.
“It is truly an honor and a privilege to announce this inductee into the Mohawk Valley Baseball Hall of Fame during this month of commemoration of African American heritage and the contribution made by African Americans to our great game and country,” said Travis Heiser, owner and general manager of the Mohawk Valley Diamond Dawgs which administers the MVBBHOF. “Bud Fowler is truly an American icon from our area, and his inclusion in the Hall of Fame makes the Hall a better organization overall.”
The son of a fugitive hop-picker and barber, Fowler was christened John W. Jackson. His father had escaped from slavery and migrated to New York. In 1859, his family moved from Fort Plain to Cooperstown. He learned to play baseball during his youth in Cooperstown – the iconic home to the history of the game.
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 on July 21, 1877, when he was 19. 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. He became the most popular player on the 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.”
After the Western League folded that season due to financial reasons, Fowler moved on 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 Batting Average. He also led the league in triples. Eventually, Fowler moved first to Binghamton, New York where he experienced racial tensions and had teammates refused play with him, then in 1892 he played in Kearney Nebraska for the Nebraska State League. 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 until 1987 when 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.
Fowler joins Jim LaFountain and Joe Milazzo as the third inductee into the 2019 Mohawk Valley Baseball Hall of Fame.
The event’s doors will open on April 12, at 5:30 P.M. for cocktails, autographs and silent auction with dinner and program following. Tickets cost $40 per person and a table of 8 can be purchased for $275.
To purchase a seat or table, please email Travis@mydiamonddawgs.com or contact team owner Travis Heiser at (315) 985-0692.