Friends lend a hand to Day's widow

February 19, 1997|By GREGORY KANE

The name of Effa Manley, former owner of the Newark Eagles of the old Negro baseball leagues, was misspelled in Gregory Kane's column Wednesday.

The Sun regrets the error.

Hard luck has dogged Geraldine and Leon Day with the relentlessness and ferocity of the fictional Inspector Javert, Jean Valjean's nemesis in the novel "Les Miserables."

On Saturday night, Bob Hieronimus told the sad tale of the devastating blows fate has dealt the former Negro league baseball star and his widow over the years. It started in 1993, when Leon Day was still in reasonably good health and was a shoo-in to be voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

Day needed 12 votes to be elected. Roy Campanella, who had voted for Day's inclusion for years and would definitely have voted for him in 1993, fell sick and couldn't vote. Within six months, Hieronimus said, Campanella was dead. Such was the first stroke of bad luck delaying Day's selection for the Hall of Fame.

In March 1995, Day, lying in a sickbed in St. Agnes Hospital, was elected to the Hall of Fame. An agent had arranged appearances that would have paid Day $75,000 to $90,000. But then that cruel fate struck again: Within six days of his election to the hall, Day was dead. There would be no $75,000 to $90,000 for either him or his widow, who was left with her job as a forklift operator at a local paper company to support her.

You would think hard luck would have been done with the Days, that it would have relented and picked on someone else. But like the classic schoolyard bully - or that manic Inspector Javert from Victor Hugo's novel - hard luck continues to hound Geraldine. Her doctor has ordered her to stop working her $190-a-week job for health reasons.

"I haven't worked in about a month," she said Saturday, looking out over the capacity crowd at the Overlea that had come to a benefit dinner on her behalf. Members of the integrated crowd had paid $75 a head to help Leon Day's widow. They listened raptly as Day, adorned in a sharp red dress, expressed her gratitude.

"I just want to thank you all out there," she said humbly after Hieronimus had to all but force her to the stage and put the mike in her hand. "It means a lot to me to see all your nice, kind faces out there, and I thank God for all of you. I It's been tough the last couple of years."

That last line should give you an idea of Geraldine Day's mettle. This woman is not complaining about her plight, because what's happened to her the past two years can in no way be described as tough. Devastating, yes. Catastrophic, yes. But not tough. Yet in spite of her troubles she has been reluctant to ask for help.

"Sometimes a person has to swallow their pride and reach out," she told the crowd. So reach out she did, and Baltimoreans and Marylanders of all races reached back, extending a hand that they turned into a fist to knock that persistent hard luck that's been so cruel to the Days flat on its butt.

Former Dunbar High School and University of Maryland basketball coach Bob Wade presented Day with a check on behalf of Mayor Kurt Schmoke. Ken Bancroft, a senior vice president for St. Agnes Hospital, gave Day a check for $5,000.

Mike Gibbons, director of the Babe Ruth Museum, took the stage to announce that when the new Babe Ruth Museum opens, it will have a wing dedicated to the Negro leagues.

"Leon will be a major part of that story. The Negro league story has never been told the way it should have been told," Gibbons said.

The museum also will try to get Geraldine Day to be the main greeter for the Negro league wing of the new museum, Gibbons said as the crowd burst into thunderous applause.

Ford Anderson, whose aunt Effa Manning, used to own the Newark Eagles of the Negro leagues, was on hand to offer Geraldine Day any help he could give. If she needed anything, all she had to do was call him, the Howard County resident said.

Anderson told a story that indicated exactly when hard luck may have first struck the Days.

"I remember one thing as a teen," Anderson recalled. "I remember my aunt saying, 'When Leon gets out of the Army, he's going to be the first [black player] taken by the major leagues.'" Day wasn't the first, of course. That distinction went to Jackie Robinson, who many felt was far from being the best player in the Negro leagues.

That was hard luck - and damned poor judgment on the part of major league owners - that gave Leon Day his first setback. But Saturday, some determined Marylanders - joined by some old Negro league stars - gathered to throw hard luck a curve for a change.

Pub Date: 2/19/97

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