Jeffrey Michael Laing. Bud Fowler: Baseball's First Black Professional. Jefferson NC: McFarland, 2013. 227 pp. Paper, $29.95.
Having said this, it is this reviewer's opinion that this is likely the only way to tell this story. Otherwise, it would be an incredibly short book. Laing has done a great job of ferreting out the details of Fowler's life and making a few suppositions along the way as to what exactly happened to Fowler at times in his life. Fowler was a peripatetic figure, as was the case with many nineteenth-century baseball players. Born John W. Jackson in upstate New York in 1858, Fowler spent his youth in Cooperstown, New York. By 1878, he was playing baseball in Massachusetts, and from there he played in a number of states, cities, and towns before the establishment of the color line in professional baseball forced him to the sidelines as a player. Even after the color line ended his career in professional baseball, Fowler served as a baseball promoter until his death in 1913.
Laing states in his preface that it is his hope that his research will encourage others to further explore the life of Bud Fowler and that with this impetus Fowler will be rightfully admitted to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Laing has made his case in a convincing fashion that Fowler was truly a pioneering figure not only in the history of African American baseball but in the overall history of baseball. Based on Laing's research, Fowler emerges as a man who did his best to overcome the obstacles placed in his path as he sought to participate in baseball at the highest levels. Yet Fowler never made it to the highest level of baseball: the major leagues. Was it racism that kept him from ever making it to the show? Laing hints at this but presents no evidence of any major-league team offering Fowler the chance to play for them.
The villain, if there is one, in Laing's biography of Fowler is, of course, Adrian "Cap" Anson. Anson is generally considered the instigator of the color line in baseball, and Laing presents evidence supporting this. Still, the culture in the United States during the last quarter of the nineteenth century certainly lent itself to the type of behavior exhibited by Anson and others in professional baseball. Many individuals were determined to prove that baseball was a uniquely American game and not one that "outsiders" could play at the major-league level.
Laing conducted a great amount of research as evidenced by his documentation in the work and by the sheer quantity and quality of the material in his bibliography ranging from secondary sources to periodical articles and websites to archival material such as newspapers and archives in New York, New Mexico, and Ohio. The reference to New Mexico is a seemingly odd one, as New Mexico was not a baseball hotbed at the time; but the connection becomes clear in Laing's preface. Laing resides in Santa Fe, and he learned that in 1888 Santa Fe won the New Mexico Baseball League title in its only year of existence. He notes that he further learned that one of the best players on the team was the African American ballplayer Bud Fowler. From there, his interest continued to grow, and this book is the culmination of his research.
On the whole, this book does an excellent job at making a case for Bud Fowler for inclusion into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. It also is an excellent example of putting Fowler's life into the context of events and situations in the United States during the latter half of the nineteenth century. Laing is thorough in his early chapters to lay the groundwork for the readers to understand what it meant to be an African American ballplayer during the time before the color line came down as a barrier in professional baseball.
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|Title Annotation:||BOOK REVIEWS|
|Author:||Lehman, Douglas K.|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2014|
|Previous Article:||Frank Garland. Willie Stargell: A Life in Baseball. Jefferson NC: McFarland, 2013. 263 pp. Paper, $29.95.|
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