As promised, for the next couple months, I’ll be writing up the Baseball Hall of Fame from top to bottom—every candidate, every argument, lots of fun. We continue this week with the veterans’ committee candidates — the players in the Early Baseball Era Committee and candidates from the Golden Days Era Committee.
* * *
No. 16: Bud Fowler (Early Baseball Era Ballot)
The first African-American player in organized baseball … Fowler played for a variety of teams beginning when he was 14 years old, in 1872, before the National League was founded. … Bounced from team to team as the only African-American player in white baseball; was widely considered to be one of the best players in baseball at the time and, as one paper remarked, would have undoubtedly found a place on a major league team had he been white.
Key numbers: There are few Fowler numbers to work with, but the best guess is that he was a .300 or so hitter and he led at least one league in triples.
Hall of Fame history: Bud Fowler was one of 94 nominated for the Hall of Fame by the Hall’s Special Committee on African-American Baseball in 2006 but he did not make the final ballot.
* * *
Here’s one reason the Hall of Fame vote is impossible — you tell me how you’re supposed to compare Bud Fowler with, say, Allie Reynolds. Bud Fowler was the first African-American to play in organized white baseball. He never played in the National League because he was black, but he also never played in the Negro leagues because they had not been created yet.
He bounced from town to town, from Keokuk to Stillwater, Pueblo to Topeka, Binghamton to Montpelier to Terre Haute, enduring unconscionable racism and unending pink slips. He was surely one of the best players of the day — “With his splendid abilities, he would long ago have been on some good club had his color been white instead of black,” the Sporting Life wrote — but teammates were constantly demanding his release. Later, he began putting together his own black barnstorming teams and Sol White called him “the sage of baseball.”
How do you compare him to Allie Reynolds, who was a fine pitcher for the Yankees?