Many baseball historians see the path from Bud Fowler to Jackie Robinson but it was the official Major League Baseball historian, John Thorn, who articulated it best.
”It strikes me that this is Jackie Robinson week but Jackie walked across a bridge that others built,” Thorn said while speaking at Bud Fowler Day in Cooperstown on Saturday. “If Jackie Robinson walked across a bridge, he also would have walked across Fowler Way.”
Fowler Way is the new name for the Cooperstown village street that leads to Doubleday Field.
Thorn joined about 10 elected officials and more than 50 spectators to dedicate the new street and unveil the installation of a plaque and information kiosk at the baseball field in honor of Fowler, who was
born John W. Jackson and whose father was a barber in the basement of the building at 92 Main Street.
Among the spectators were dozens of members of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) who were in town for the 2013 Frederick Ivor-Campbell 19th Century Baseball Conference. It is SABR
members that have largely been responsible for rediscovering and honoring Fowler, who is thought by many historians to be the first African-American to play organized baseball.
”We joke that with the 19th century group here in town, 72.4 percent of all the people in North America who know who Bud Fowler was are here,” said Baseball Hall of Fame librarian Jim Gates. “We believe that (percentage) will decrease significantly now.”
Although a small group of people knew the story of Fowler, very few details of his life were known until recently and there are still many mysteries. There are only two known photos of him and no known descendants.
He was born March 16, 1858 in Fort Plain and died Feb. 26, 1913 in Frankfort, where he is buried. In 1987, SABR members raised money to mark his grave. SABR and Friends of Doubleday Field raised the money