Baseball Hall of Fame to honor first woman

Co-owner of Negro leagues' Newark Eagles is one of 17 selected from 1920s-1940s era

February 28, 2006|By MIKE KLINGAMAN | MIKE KLINGAMAN,SUN REPORTER

Effa Manley's tombstone reads, She Loved Baseball.

Yesterday, after a long wait, baseball showed it loves her.

Manley, co-owner of the Newark, N.J., team in the old Negro National League, was voted into Cooperstown yesterday - the first woman ever elected to the Hall of Fame.

She was one of 17 people, all from the era of black baseball, who were chosen by a special committee.

Iron-willed and independent, Manley ran her club with aplomb. While she was co-owner, the Newark Eagles won the Negro leagues championship in 1946 and sent three players to the big leagues - Don Newcombe, Monte Irvin and Larry Doby.

"Today, she got her due," said Jeff Idelson, vice president of communications for the Hall of Fame. "Effa Manley's election is deserved and incredibly historic.

"She was a white woman who was raised black. On top of that, she ascended to the highest level in a male sport - and was successful."

Effa Manley was a white woman reared in the black world. Born in Philadelphia in 1897 and raised by a white mother and black stepfather, she married a black businessman, Abe Manley. In 1935, the two formed a team that would go on to challenge the mighty Homestead Grays for supremacy in the Negro National League.

Though she met her husband at a World Series game, Effa Manley lacked baseball expertise and business experience. But by World War II, she had helped turn the Newark franchise into a profitable enterprise - and one with a social conscience.

"She ran her team like clubs are run today, with close ties to the community and behavioral expectations for her players," said Jim Overmyer, who authored a biography of Manley, Queen of the Negro Leagues.

At the ballpark, he said, "She held everything from war bond drives to an Anti-Lynching Day, complete with buttons for [spectators] to wear."

Newark players traveled in an air-conditioned bus and checked into the best hotels the times allowed. They made decent money despite Manley's tight-fisted reputation.

"She was fairly penurious in negotiating their salaries," said Overmyer. "Her letters show some sharp exchanges at contract time, things like, `How can you ask for a hundred dollars more when this is all that you did last year?'

"She was not an apologetic person if she thought she was right."

Come game time, however, Effa Manley backed her club to the hilt. Once, after Newark lost, 2-1, to the Grays on a Josh Gibson home run, Manley accosted the Homestead slugger and badgered him all the way to the bus. Simply put, she hated to lose.

"Her husband had the money for that team, but Effa had the power," said Leslie Heaphy, a history professor at Kent State University who has written a book on the Negro leagues. "She handled league finances, promotions and advertising."

In 1947, when integration began decimating the Negro leagues, Manley stubbornly refused to let her stars go for free.

"After [Brooklyn's] Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson for nothing, Effa stood up and said, `We're a league and we deserve compensation,'" said Heaphy. "She held onto Doby until Cleveland paid $15,000, and then got $5,000 for Irvin from the New York Giants."

The stand Manley took was not popular with all blacks, said Heaphy.

"Some thought that by speaking up, she was standing in the way of integration. It was a fine line to walk. But Effa was determined to gain recognition for her league."

Abe Manley's declining health forced the couple to sell the club in 1948. After his death two years later, Effa Manley moved to California. Until her death in 1981, she lobbied the Hall of Fame to elect Negro league stars such as Mule Suttles and Raleigh "Biz" Mackey, both of whom were honored yesterday.

Those with Baltimore ties chosen yesterday include Ben Taylor, Mackey and Jud "Boojum" Wilson.

Taylor, a left-handed hitting first baseman, played 16 seasons before ending his career in 1929. From 1926 through 1928, he was a player/manager with the Baltimore Black Sox.

After he retired from the game, he became a successful businessman, running a pool room and printing and selling programs at Baltimore Elite Giants games. In 1953, at age 64, he died of pneumonia in Baltimore.

Mackey, considered one of the greatest catchers in Negro league history, played for the Elite Giants and briefly for the Black Sox. While with the Elite Giants, Mackey tutored a then-15-year-old catching prospect named Roy Campanella, who became a Hall of Famer for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Mackey died in 1965 at age 68 in Los Angeles

Wilson was with the Black Sox from 1922 til 1930, winning the Eastern Colored League's batting title with a .408 average in 1927. A third and first baseman, he was the stolen base leader in 1929, helping the Black Sox to the pennant as part of the team's "million-dollar infield."

He was nicknamed "Boojum" because that was the sound his line drives made when they ricocheted off outfield walls. In 1963, he died at age 69 in Washington, D.C.

Other black former players chosen were Ray Brown, Willard Brown, Andy Cooper, Frank Grant, Pete Hill, Jose Mendez, Louis Santop and Cristobal Torriente. Negro league executives to be enshrined include Alex Pompez, Cum Posey, J.L. Wilkinson and Sol White.

The new inductees join former reliever Bruce Sutter - tabbed by the Baseball Writers' Association of America in January - to make up the largest class ever admitted to the Hall. This year's ceremony will be held July 30 in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Sun reporter Dan Connolly contributed to this article.

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