BINGHAMTON, NY (WIVT/WBGH) – In 2022, Bud Fowler, a Central New York native, was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in his hometown of Cooperstown.
Over time, a majority of his professional statistics have been lost to history, but his determination and demeanor were integral in transforming the game of baseball and our country into what we know today.
Baseball Historian Phil Dixon said, “they weren’t looking for a Black guy just to put on the team, they were looking for somebody who could make them a winner, and Bud Fowler was that guy.”
John Jackson aka Bud Fowler, was born in March of 1858 in Fort Plain, New York.
Dixon said that Fowler faced challenges that we can hardly imagine today.
“He started off being typically, maybe the only black player on the team. And so, he had played a few minor leagues, but those opportunities were vastly drying up.”
Fowler was a a second baseman and a pitcher during the time of Jim Crow.
His first stint playing professionally was on an all-white team based out of New Castle Pennsylvania when he was just 14 years old.
Dixon said, “travel accommodations weren’t the same for you, and sometimes money accommodations weren’t the same. So, it took a special ball player and a special individual to know how to navigate that.”
Throughout his career, Fowler played or managed in over 50 communities across the country.
According to Dixon, Fowler stayed in the Northern part of the country to avoid more blatant racism in the South.
Throughout his career, such as here, in BInghamton New York, individual players, including his own teammates, and opposing teams, refused to play against Fowler due to the color of his skin.
Fowler’s family moved to Cooperstown New York by 1860, and just last Summer, he became the first player in history to hail from the small village and be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
The Saturday before the induction ceremony, one of Fowler’s old teams in Binghamton held a game in his honor.
David Sobotka is the President of the Binghamton Rumble Ponies, and says that Fowler has been enshrined in Binghamton for several years now.
Sobotka said, “the baseball powers that know are aware of Bud, and his exploits on the field, but the general public, he might be the best player that nobody ever heard of.”
Dixon believes that the same racism that Fowler faced when he was alive, is the same racism that delayed him from receiving his rightful recognition until recently.
Baseball Hall of Famer Dave Winfield spoke on Fowler’s behalf at last summer’s ceremony.
Winfield said, “Pioneers many times, do not get to enjoy the changes they bring about or the doors they open. But Fowler’s impact on the game and spreading baseball to Black communities around the country was indeed profound.”
Although we tend to forget, Fowler was the first Black player to integrate a white professional team nearly 70 years before Jackie Robinson.
The half hour special “Honoring Black History: Sharing Our Stories” will air on WBGH, NBC-5 on Saturday at 7 p.m. and then again on WIVT, NewsChannel 34 on Sunday at 11 a.m.