Each year, the Baseball Hall of Fame elects new members based on the era they came from. In 2021, two new members were added via the Early Baseball Era committee, Bud Fowler and Buck O’Neil.
This committee elects candidates whose primary contributions to the game of baseball took place below 1950. The other era are The Golden Days Era (1950-1969), The Modern Baseball Era (1970-87), and The Today’s Game Era (1988-present).
Fowler and O’Neil were the two people elected from a 10-person ballot of their era. O’Neil received 13 votes of 16 while Fowler received 12 of 16, with 12 being the minimum required for election. Vic Harris was the next closest with 10 of 16 votes.
In their statement unveiling this year’s Hall of Fame elections, Major League Baseball said this about Fowler. “Fowler, often acknowledged as the first Black professional baseball player, pitched and played second base for teams throughout the late 1800s after growing up in and around Cooperstown, N.Y. In 1894, Fowler helped form the Page Fence Giants, who would go on to become one of the all-time great Black barnstorming teams.”
Fowler’s 10-year professional career as a player and manager from 1894-1904 was considered a record for a Black baseball player prior to Jackie Robinson. He passed away in 1913, but his election into the Hall of Fame over a century later shows the impact he had on the game.
MLB’s statement also spoke about the other elected person from this era, someone who had a very similar impact on the game as Fowler. “O’Neil played, managed, coached and scouted for nearly eight decades, becoming a beloved oral historian for the Negro Leagues at the end of the 20th century. He broke into the Negro American League with the Memphis Red Sox in 1937 then latched on at first base for the Kansas City Monarchs in 1938. He would remain with the club for nearly two decades. In 1948, O’Neil was named player-manager of the Monarchs – a role he would hold until 1955. He became the first Black coach in AL or NL history in 1962 with the Chicago Cubs.”
It’s nearly impossible to understand the gravity of Fowler and O’Neil breaking into professional baseball as Black athletes and coaches during the time period that they did. Both were integral parts of pro organizations well before the Civil Rights Era.
Both are undoubtedly deserving of being forever honored in the Baseball Hall of Fame. O’Neil, like Fowler, is no longer alive to see his election, as he passed away in 2006. But both will have their impact on baseball forever remembered.