Bud Fowler’s life blazed a trail from Cooperstown
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In 1894, Fowler teamed up with Grant “Home Run” Johnson to form the Page Fence Giants, who would go on to become one of the all-time great Black barnstorming teams. It was during the team’s inaugural season that Fowler faced off against a major league team when the Page Fence Giants took on the Cincinnati Reds in a two-game exhibition match-up. They lost against the Reds, but the season proved to be a success – particularly for Fowler himself, who hit .316 on the year. Later on, he had a hand 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.
“Some of these days, a few people with nerve enough to take the chance will form a [Black baseball] league of about eight cities and pull off a barrel of money. I know the field is there,” Fowler, who was described in the article as the “patriarch among the Black sons of swat, told the Cincinnati Enquirer in 1905.
Tragically, Black baseball’s early leader fell ill just a few years later after retiring to Frankfort, N.Y.
“Bud Fowler, probably the greatest [Black] ball player who ever lived and a man well known in the professional baseball world for thirty years is dying here,” wrote the Sporting Life in September of 1908. Though his illness was initially reported to be consumption, Fowler apparently wrote to correct them, claiming “An x-ray examination revealed the fact that he has for six years been suffering from an injury sustained while stealing a base in Indianapolis.”
He passed away from pernicious anemia on Feb. 26, 1913.
In recent years, baseball historians have sought to properly recognize Fowler’s contributions to the game. In 1987, the Society for American Baseball Research purchased a headstone for his previously unmarked grave, with an inscription that reads “John W. Jackson: ‘Bud Fowler,’ Black Baseball Pioneer.” And in 2013, the Village of Cooperstown dedicated the street leading to Doubleday Field as “Bud Fowler Way.”
“Bud Fowler is a key figure not only in black baseball,” said Bob Kendrick, President of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, “but also baseball history all over.”
Isabelle Minasian was the digital content specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum