Change Makers: Bud Fowler, the first black professional baseball player now headed to the Hall of Fame

Published: Feb. 1, 2022 at 11:43 AM EST
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Binghamton (WBNG) -- February is Black History Month and all month long, WBNG will be highlighting change-makers from in and around the Southern Tier.

We start with America’s pastime, baseball, and introduce you to a player who in just a few months, will be enshrined for all time at the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Nearly six decades before Jackie Robinson would break the color barrier in Major League Baseball, John W. Jackson Jr., better known as Bud Fowler, would step onto the pro diamond.


Born in 1858 in Fort Plain, N.Y. , Fowler’s family moved to Cooperstown a few years later. According to village historian Hugh MacDougall, just 28 Blacks lived in Cooperstown at that time.

Jon Shestakofsky, the Vice President of Communications and Education at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, said Fowler made his pro debut in 1878 in the International Association.

“Bud Fowler was a real pioneer, a baseball pioneer for black ballplayers,” said Shestakofsky, “He is known as the first professional baseball player who was black.”

Fowler played professionally for nearly two decades.

“He was a versatile player,” said Shestakofsky, “He pitched some, he was a catcher at times, but what he’s most well known for is his play as a second baseman and he was a pretty solid hitter as well.”

“For 16 years he was a pitcher and for 12 years a second baseman, and he never wore a glove, taking everything that came his way with bare hands. He was considered the equal of any man who ever covered the position.”

Berkshire Eagle, 1909

Despite his talent, the color of Fowler’s skin forced him into a more nomadic career.

“Eventually his teammates or opponents decided or objected to the idea that someone who was black was on the team or playing against them,” said Shestakofsky, “It lead to him leaving that team to find another opportunity.”


According to the Hall of Fame, he played for teams and leagues across the country including the Keokuk Hawkeyes in Iowa, the Colorado State League, Topeka Capitals, Terre Haute Hoosiers, New Mexico League, Michigan State League, and led the Nebraska State League to name a few.

In 1887 he returned east to star for the Binghamton Crickets.

“The players of the Binghamton club have each been fined $50 by the directors for having refused to go upon the field six weeks ago unless Fowler, the colored second baseman, was removed.”

Boston Herald

Baseball Historians estimate he played for more than a dozen leagues throughout his career. Fowler himself is quoted as saying he played on teams in 22 different states.


“He was someone who loved baseball enough to keep wanting to play it even though it meant he had to switch teams frequently,” said Shestakofsky.

“My skin is against me,” he wrote in 1895. “The race prejudice is so strong that my Black skin barred me.”

However, his legacy wasn’t just as a player, but also as a baseball organizer.

“He was behind one of the first great barnstorming teams the Page Fence Giants,” said Shestakofsky, “They gathered up some of the best black ballplayers and toured them around the country.”


According to Hall of Fame records during that team’s first season Fowler had a successful year, hitting .316. As the years went on he had played a role in establishing other barnstorming clubs, including the Smoky City Giants, All-American Black Tourists, and the Kansas City Stars, and was a strong proponent of establishing Black baseball leagues.

He passed away a few years after retiring to Frankfort, N.Y. from pernicious anemia on Feb. 26, 1913.

In 2013, a street in Cooperstown leading to the famed Double Day Field was named in his honor, “Fowler Way”.


In Summer 2022, Fowler will be cast in bronze as a member of the National Baseball Hall of fame, over a century after his groundbreaking pro debut. Shestakofsky said he carved a path that many greats have now followed, all by spreading his love of the game.

“Spreading the idea that there could be a black ballplayer, that black ballplayers existed and that blacks could play baseball,” said Shestakofsky, " Now he’s in a way coming back home to be celebrated here in Cooperstown once again.”

The induction ceremony for Fowler and others is set for Sunday, July 24.

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