John W. “Bud” Fowler, top row center, held the record for most consecutive seasons of a black man playing on white teams (11) until Jackie Robinson broke it in 1956.
Fowler’s Page Fence Giants, an all black team, traveled the country in this custom-made railroad car which featured sleeping quarters, a cook, and a porter.
John W. “Bud” Fowler played Major League baseball in 1878.
By Jason Lewis
Sentinel Sports Editor
Jackie Robinson is known by many as the first black baseball player to play Major League baseball. But that is not accurate.
Robinson broke Major League’s color barrier in 1946, making him the first black player in the modern era, but about 50 black players were on Major League rosters in the late 1800s.
The first try at segregation in baseball was in 1867, just two years after the Civil War ended.
That year the Pennsylvania State Convention of Baseball in Harrisburg denied the black Pythian Baseball Club out of Philadelphia. Two months later the National Association of Baseball Players (NABBP) decided to ban any club including a black player.
The NABBP dissolved into other organizations in 1871, and team were no longer restricted by this rule.
In 1878 John W. “Bud” Fowler played his first game with a team in New Castle, Pennsylvania. He is credited as the first black player to compete on an all white team.
Born John W. Jackson in 1858, he was the son of a fugitive hop-picker and barber. A year later his family moved from Fort Plain, New York, to Cooperstown, NY, where he grew up and learned to play baseball.
Fowler picked up the nickname “Bud” because he called other players by that name.
The earliest documented account of Fowler playing in a game was in April of 1878, when he pitched for a team in Chelsea, Massachusetts.
Over the next few seasons Fowler played for the Worchester of the New England Association, Malden of the Easter Massachusetts League, Guelph, Ontario, and the Petrolia Imperials.
Fowler eventually became an everyday player, playing mostly second base. He played on white baseball teams all the way up to 1899.
Even though the color barrier had not yet been firmly established, Fowler did not last long on any team because of his race, even though he was a good player.
Fowler is credited as creating the first shin guard. He did not use it because of the ball hitting him in the shins. White players would slide into the base that he was covering cleats high, spiking Fowler in the shins. So he cut out wood planks and strapped them to his lower legs.
In the fall of 1894, the social conditions led him to organize the Page Fence Giants, an all-black team sponsored by the Page Woven Wire Fence Company of Adrian, Michigan, and the team began play the following spring with Fowler as the playing manager and Grant “Home Run” Johnson as the shortstop and captain.
That spring the Page Fence Giants’ season was a success, as they ended it with a 118-36 record for a .766 winning percentage and Fowler hit .316 for the year.
The team traveled around the country in a custom-made railroad car, which featured sleeping quarters, a cook and a porter.
Fowler played 11 consecutive seasons with white baseball teams, which at the time was the most by a black player. It was a record that lasted until Jackie Robinson broke it with his 12th season with the Dodgers in 1956.
During the 1890s, various white baseball leagues began to prohibit the signings of black players, but they allowed black players already under contract to stay with their teams. Other white leagues unofficially banned black players.
The racial barriers at the time were only directed at black players, as other races were allowed to play in professional white baseball leagues.
Some teams attempted to field a black player by passing him off as a Native American, but when it was found out that the player was really black, he was fired.
Fowler finished his baseball career playing on all black barnstorming teams.
Fowler passed away in 1913 at the age of 54.
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