The first, very familiar photo shows Bud Fowler (standing in the middle) with the Keokuk team of the Western League in 1885. Fowler, of course, was the first known African American professional baseball player. The second photo, probably not so familiar to most baseball fans, shows Andrew Watson, the first player of mixed race heritage (Scottish/Afro-Caribbean) to play at the highest level of British football.
Fowler, literally isolated, with none of his teammates close by (an effect heightened by the retouching on some of the other players), looks stiff and awkward and uncomfortable. Watson, by contrast, blends in easily with his team. While it would also be easy to read too much into just two photos, clearly in this case their composition fortuitously reflects the real circumstances of their careers, at least at the moments they were taken.
The two men were virtual contemporaries, though from very different backgrounds. Fowler was born John W. Jackson, the son of an African American barber in Fort Plain, New York, on March 16, 1858. Watson was born in British Guiana on May 18, 1857. His father was a wealthy (white) Scottish planter, who saw to it that Watson was university-educated.
Fowler had become a professional ballplayer, and had adopted his nom de guerre, at least by 1878. He played in organized baseball, mostly as an infielder, before the color line was solidly drawn, off and on from 1878 to 1892. He bounced from team to team, never having a serious chance to make the major leagues, but playing at the highest level of the minors. Late in his career he helped to found the Page Fence Giants, one of the earliest black teams of the Jim Crow era and a precursor of the great Negro league teams.
Fowler was a professional; Watson was an (officially) amateur player at a time when the amateur game was still dominant. He played as a full back for various Scottish clubs beginning in the mid 1870s before joining Queen’s Park, the premier club in Scotland and one of the very best in Britain at the time. He played three times for the Scottish national team. Eventually Watson became the first non-English player invited to play for Corinthians, the most prestigious and probably best side in England in the 1880s.
Although Fowler remained active in baseball as a player, manager, and organizer well into his forties, he eventually fell into poverty, and died in 1913 in upstate New York, not far from where he was born, at the early age of 54. Andrew Watson’s post-football circumstances are not well understood, though it is known that he emigrated to Australia and died there in 1902, at age 44.