The Ladies of The Negro Leagues (Part 2)

By Tony McClean
Updated: November 19, 2007

Today: Effa Manley, owner and activist.

“Babe Ruth made a baseball fan out of me. I used to go to Yankee Stadium just to see him come to bat. I didn’t know anything about the game, but little by little I caught on. My husband came from Camden, New Jersey, used to play, and he was a rabid fan. He came to New York for the World Series, and we met at the World Series.”

– Effa Manley

Effa Manley
Effa Manley

NEW HAVEN, CT.—If you visit the Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California, you’ll see the gravesite of Ms. Effa Manley. Her gravestone reads simply “She Loved Baseball.”

Within the Black community, Manley, a native of Philadelphia, rarely discussed her heritage, and most people assumed she was a light-skinned Black.Young Effa was born on March 27, 1900 and raised in a household with a Black stepfather and Black half-siblings.

After graduation from high school in Philly, she moved to New York to work in the millinery business. She met Abe Manley, a man 24 years older than her, at the 1932 World Series at Yankee Stadium.

They married on June 15, 1935. Abe had money through a number of successful investments in real estate and in “the numbers racket”.

Together, they started a Negro League team in Brooklyn, in 1935, naming the team the Eagles.

The Eagles played in Ebbets Field but were unable to compete with the Brooklyn Dodgers. To survive financially, the Manleys moved the Eagles to Newark and also bought the Newark Dodgers, a Black semi-pro team in 1936. Effa and Abe ran the Eagles from 1935-48.

Her influence extended beyond baseball. Ms. Manley was also active in the Black civil rights movement. She took over day-to-day business operations of the team, arranged playing schedules, planned the team’s travel, managed and met the payroll, bought the equipment, negotiated contracts, and handled publicity and promotions.

Thanks to her rallying efforts, more than 185 VIPs — including New York Mayor Fiorello LeGuardia, who threw out the first pitch, and Charles C. Lockwood, justice of the Supreme Court of the State of New York — were on hand to watch the Eagles’ inaugural game in 1935.

Although many of the men in the sport resented her and complained loudly about her brashness, they also respected her.

Manley once said, “Abe took me to all the meetings, of course.

The first one or two meetings they felt a little bit annoyed. One day it was Cum Posey of the Grays apologizing for using profane words at one of the meetings…Anyway, they finally opened up and were just wonderful to me.”

A LEADER FOR SOCIAL CHANGE As part of her work for the Citizen’s League for Fair Play, Manley organized a 1934 boycott of a Harlem stores that refused to hire Black salesclerks. Whites owned most of the large retail stores along the heart of the commercial area. Manley walked in the picket lines and negotiated for the hiring of blacks for more than just menial jobs, such as janitorial work. After six weeks, the owners of the stores gave in and a year later all 300 stores on 125th Street employed Blacks.

The Manleys lived in Sugar Hill, an upper-class section of Harlem that included such neighbors as W.E.B. DuBois, Roy Wilkins, Walter White, and Thurgood Marshall. Her service included work on the Children’s Day Camp Committee.

In 1936, as an officer on the Edgecombe Sanitarium Renaissance Committee, she led a group to save the mortgage of Edgecombe Sanitarium in Harlem.

Manley was also the treasurer of the Newark chapter of the NAACP and often used Eagles games to promote civic causes. In 1939, Manley held an “Anti-Lynching Day” at Ruppert Stadium. Several stories about her have become part of Negro League folklore.

One such tale is that she provided the Eagles with an air-conditioned, $15,000 flexible clipper bus, a first for the Negro Leagues in 1946.

Worried about what her players would do for employment during the off-season, she and Abe sponsored a team in the Puerto Rican winter leagues. She and Abe served as godparents to Larry Doby’s first child. They loaned Monte Irvin money for a down payment on his first house.

During World War II, Negro Leagues attendance reached all-time highs.

By the end of the war, the leagues were a $2 million enterprise and represented one of the largest Black-dominated businesses in the U.S. After the war, integration of Major League baseball became a hot-button issue.

The color line was broken in 1946 when Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson to play for Montreal, the Dodgers’ Triple-A International League team. That year was a watershed one for Manley and the Eagles, too.

Newark beat the Kansas City Monarchs in a thrilling, 7-game Negro League World Series. When Robinson broke into the majors, integration took its toll on the Negro Leagues. Attendance at Eagles games plummeted, from 120,000 in 1946 to 57,000 in 1948, and Newark, like many other Negro League teams were unable to generate profits.

After Rickey successfully recruited pitcher Don Newcombe away from Newark and convinced him to join the Dodgers, Manley took action.

She wrote letters to Rickey asking him to meet with her. Rickey did not respond, but Manley continued to fight for just compensation and speak out against the raiding of Negro League teams without reparation.

Cleveland Indians owner Bill Veeck called Manley in 1947, inquiring about Larry Doby. They agreed to a deal that ultimately paid the Manleys $15,000 in exchange for Doby, who became the first Black player in the American League.

The deal established a precedent and Major League owners from then on paid an average of $5,000 for each Negro Leaguer they signed.

The Eagles folded in 1948, and several other teams in the Negro National League would follow suit.

Throughout her years in the business, Manley kept a baseball scrapbook.

This is now part of the collection at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. Until her death in April 1981 at the age of 81, Manley devoted herself to keeping the history of Negro League baseball alive.

In 1976, Manley published “Negro Baseball … before Integration,” which listed 73 players she felt were qualified for the Hall of Fame. She wrote numerous letters to the Baseball Hall of Fame and publications such as The Sporting News, urging recognition for the league and its players.

The Hall of Fame enshrined 11 players from the Negro Leaguers in 1973. And in 1985, the Hall of Fame added an exhibit on Black baseball.

Her photo is prominently displayed in the exhibit.

In these times of “Spider Man” ads and pop-up TV commercials, Effa Manley’s simple dedication on and off the field to the sport of baseball is just another proud chapter in the heritage of black sports history.

Next – Part 3: Pitcher Mamie Johnson.

NOTE: The African-American Registry and The Baseball Library contributed to this story.