Considered the first minor league circuit in baseball history, the Northwestern League was organized in Rockford, Illinois on January 2, 1879. The organization included the Davenport Brown Stockings, Omaha Green Stockings, Dubuque Red Stockings, and Rockford White Stockings. Unfortunately, the stocking league became defunct before the season even came to an end as a result of lacking a fixed schedule and financial mismanagement.
Bud Fowler was the earliest known African-American player in organized professional baseball, as well as the first to play on integrated teams. Born John W. Jackson on March 16, 1858, Fowler was the son of a fugitive slave-turned-barber. His father had escaped from slavery and migrated to New York, eventually settling in Cooperstown. The young John Jackson learned to play baseball during his youth in Cooperstown, but it remains unknown why he went on to adopt the name “Bud Fowler.”
Fowler learned to be a barber like his father, working in the profession to supplement his income while he played ball. He played amateur ball for a few years, and his first year of prominence in the game came in 1878 at the age of twenty. By this time John W. Jackson was calling himself “Bud Fowler,” and would be known by this moniker throughout his baseball career. On April 24, 1878, he pitched a game for the Chelsea Picked Nine, who defeated the Boston Red Caps, champions of the National League in 1877. He pitched some more for the Chelsea team, then played a few games with the Lynn Live Oaks, and finally finished that season with the Worcester club.
The Lynn Live Oaks were a member of the International Association (IA), considered by some historians to be the first minor league, as they operated in cooperation with the National League. Thus, with his stint with the Live Oaks in 1878, Fowler became the first African-American to integrate a team in minor league history, and thus the game’s first African-American professional ballplayer.
Continuing to support himself as a barber, Fowler went on to play for baseball teams in New England and Canada for the next four years. He then moved to the Midwest, playing for teams in Niles, Ohio and Stillwater, Minnesota with the Northwestern League.
Fowler initially signed with the Stillwater team as a catcher. However, after the club lost its first fifteen games, Fowler was put on the mound. On May 25, 1884, he led the team to its first victory, a 13-7 win over Fort Wayne. The team relied heavily on his right arm from that point on, and Fowler delivered, winning five of Stillwater’s first seven victories. All his time on the mound took its toll on his arm, however, and that season marked his transition from the battery to the infield.
Fowler signed with the Keokuk (Iowa) club in February 1885 where he quickly became the most popular player on the team as a second baseman. Fans and newspapers alike admired not only his abilities as a ballplayer, but also his intelligence and his “gentlemanly” conduct. Unfortunately, the Western League folded in mid-June due to financial reasons, leaving Fowler without a team.
After short stints in St. Joseph, Missouri and in Portland, Maine, Fowler signed with the Pueblo Pastimes of the Colorado League to finish out the year. The impression he left in Colorado became evident when the Rocky Mountain News commented, “A league of colored baseball players has been organized in the South. It is safe to say there will be few of them as good as Fowler.” The following season, in 1886, Fowler joined a team in Topeka, Kansas where he led the league in triples, helping Topeka to the pennant.
Fowler continued to journey from team to team, however, racial tensions were starting to become more and more pronounced. One Sporting Life article commented, “Joe Ardner, in one game he played, shows himself to be … far superior to the ‘coon’ Fowler on second base.” Around this time, some exclusively black baseball leagues were forming, though Fowler continued to play on integrated teams, in spite of the racism he faced. In 1887, however, nine of Fowler’s white teammates with the Binghamton team signed a petition demanding that Fowler and black teammate William Renfro be released or they would quit. Finally fed up with the struggle, Fowler requested and was granted his release from the Binghamton team in late June.
Shortly after Fowler’s release, the International League formally banned any additional signings of African-American players.
Fowler continued to play for various integrated teams in other leagues over the next several years. However, racism was becoming more and more of an issue. In the fall of 1894, conditions led him to organize the Page Fence Giants, an all-black team sponsored by the Page Woven Wire Fence Company of Adrian, Michigan. From 1894 to 1904, Fowler played and/or managed the Page Fence Giants, the Cuban Giants, the Smoky City Giants, the All-American Black Tourists, and the Kansas City Stars.
At the end of his career Bud Fowler insisted that he had played on teams based in twenty-two different states and in Canada. No doubt the journeyman characteristic of his long baseball career was due in large part to the racism factor.
Bud Fowler died on February 26, 1913 of pernicious anemia after an extended illness, just shy of his 55th birthday.
Best known for his unconventional name, Ten Million was a minor league baseball player who played for several teams in the Northwestern League prior to World War I. Born on October 14, 1889 in Mount Vernon, Washington, Million’s paternal grandmother wanted her grandson to have a name that stood out. Suffices to say that she succeeded. Million attended Broadway High School, where he graduated in 1908, then went on to attend the University of Washington. While at UW, Million was captain of the baseball team.
Million, an outfielder, played for the Victoria Bees in the Cleveland Naps (now the Indians) organization in 1911, though he never made it to the majors due to a knee injury. From 1912 to 1914, Million played for the Tacoma Tigers under Hall of Fame pitcher Joe McGinnity. Million also played with the Sioux City, Moose Jaw, Victoria, and Spokane teams within the Northwestern League. Much of his career was spent at the Class B level, and Million finished with a .257 batting average for his career.
His knee injury ended his career at the age of 25, and when his playing days were done, Million did a brief tour in the Army before moving to Seattle, where he could live close to home. He worked for the city as a claims adjuster before taking on a job working at the local Spalding Sporting Goods store. While working at the store, Million met his future wife, Christine. During his downtime, Million refereed in games for various high school sports.
Million later became a salesman for the Ford Auto Company. When Ford produced its 10 millionth car in the 1920s, the vehicle was shipped to Seattle in order that Ten Million could be the one to sell it. Unsurprisingly, the story made the papers, as a Seattle newspaper ran an article with a photo covering the event.