She Just Loved Baseball

By Bill Carroll
Updated: February 28, 2010

NEW YORK — Effa Manley was seemingly yet another “lost” pioneer in Negro Leagues Baseball before being posthumously honored in 2006 with induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

She was part of a class of players and executives selected by a special committee chaired by former baseball commissioner Fay Vincent. But a plaque for the only woman inducted in the Hall of Fame barely touches the surface of an often controversial life. M anley was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her mother, Bertha Ford Brooks, was of German and East-Indian descent. Bertha, who was a seamstress, gave birth to Effa after becoming pregnant by her wealthy White employer, John M. Bishop.

Bertha’s husband, Benjamin Brooks, who was Black, sued Bishop and received a settlement of $10,000 before he and Bertha divorced. Bertha later remarried, and Effa was raised in a household with a Black stepfather and Black half-siblings.

Inheriting somewhat dark skin from her mother, she chose to live as a Black person, leading most people to assume her stepfather was her biological father and to classify her as Black. After graduation from high school in Philadelphia, she moved to New York to work in the millinery business.

She met Abe Manley, an African-American man 24 years older than she, at the 1932 World Series at Yankee Stadium, where she had gone to see her favorite player, Babe Ruth.

She and Manley married in 1935. Abe had made money through a number of successful investments in real estate and/or in what some called “numbers banking,” or racketeering.

Manley was a shrewd businesswoman, she personally took on business operations of the team: arranging playing schedules, planning travel for the team, managing payroll, purchasing equipment and taking care of publicity and promotions.

The Newark Eagles were founded in 1936 when the Newark Dodgers merged with the Brooklyn Eagles.

The Eagles sported the likes of Hall-of-Famers Larry Doby, Monte Irvin, Ray Dandridge, Leon Day, and Willie Wells. The Eagles shared Ruppert Stadium with the Newark Bears, beginning in 1936.

The Eagles had many standout players, but two entered the baseball history books: Larry Doby, the first Black player in the American League (Cleveland Indians), and Don Newcombe, Brooklyn Dodgers rookie of the year, MVP and Cy Young award winner.

The Eagles were the first professional team owned and operated by a woman, Effa Manley. The 1946 team won the Negro World Series.

Featuring the fierce double play combination of future Major Leaguers Doby (2B) and Monte Irvin (SS), they upset the Kansas City Monarchs in a 7-game series.

They featured the great battery of “Biz” Mackey (C) and Leon Day (P). Another star infielder was Hall of Famer Ray Dandridge, who was quick as a cat while patrolling third base.

In the first game played by the Eagles in 1935, she coaxed then New York mayor Fiorello LaGuardia to throw out the first pitch. Justice of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, Charles C. Lockwood was among the almost 200 VIPs in attendance at the game, thanks to Manley’s efforts. Manley hated to lose games and was notorious for her contretemps after each loss. At the end of their first losing season, Manley had manager Ben Taylor fired and replaced him with Eagles first baseman George Giles. “When she was displeased, the world came to an end. She’d stop traffic,” George Giles once said. As much as she was prone to tantrums and outbursts when the team lost, Manley was even more magnanimous to her team and her players. Manley provided a $15,000 Flexible Clipper bus with air-conditioning for the Eagles.

She and Abe sponsored a team in the Puerto Rican games so her players could earn money in the off-season. The Manleys were godparents to player Larry Doby’s first child and they were known to loan money to player Monte Irvin for a down payment on a house.

Manley constantly negotiated for better playing schedules and better salaries for her players. Manley even helped a former player, Lenny Pearson, start his own business.

Manley and her husband, Abe, operated the Brooklyn/Newark Eagles and were major figures in the behind-the-scenes operations of NLB. She would call you in and tell you how to dress, what to do, who to associate with.

When you had your problems, if they were personal, you went to Mrs. Manley, and she was very understanding, as long as you toed the line.” In addition to managing her baseball team, Manley was also a social activist for Civil rights. She organized a boycott of Harlem stores when they wouldn’t hire Black salesclerks. It took only six weeks for the stores to give in.

As a result, one year after the boycott, 300 stores employed Blacks. She held an “Anti-Lynching Day” at Ruppert Stadium and was treasurer for the Newark chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). World War II saw a surge in attendance at the Negro League games. The leagues were a $2 million enterprise by the end of the war. She was relentless in her battles with other owners, players and sportswriters to make NLB a viable professional sport and business. Manley was also a civil-rights advocate, who led several successful protests in Harlem for equitable job opportunities at White-owned businesses. She was also critical of how NLB was beholden to White booking agents – who oftentimes became club investors by advancing struggling team owners money for percentages of ownership – and the White Major League Baseball teams to utilize stadiums But the end of World War II brought many changes to the United States; changes which affected almost every aspect of American life, but baseball in particular. Integration of Major League baseball was one of them.

It started when Branch Rickey signed Negro Leaguer Jackie Robinson to play for Montreal, the Dodgers’ Triple-A International team. In 1946 the Eagles won the Negro World Series in a 7-game contest with the Kansas City Monarchs “And,” said Manley later of the championship, “I believe we could have beaten the winners of the White World Series [the Cardinals], too.” It might be said, though, that the Eagle’s club was victimized by its own success during the late 1940s.

After showcasing some of Black baseball’s finest talent during the late 1940s, Manley’s roster became prime hunting grounds for major league baseball team owners after Branch Rickey broke organized baseball’s “gentleman’s agreement” with the signing of Jackie Robinson. And when MLB, through the Brooklyn Dodgers and Rickey, began to integrate its league through the signing of Jackie Robinson, it opened up a raid on NLB rosters, with the best players being signed to contracts with little or no compensation to the NLB teams.

Though Manley successfully challenged Rickey on his attempt to sign/steal Monte Irvin, the die had been cast. When Bill Veeck, owner of the Cleveland Indians wanted Larry Doby for his team, he and Manley agreed on a deal that paid $15,000 for Doby who was the first Black player in the American League.

From that point on, Major League owners paid an average of $5,000 for Negro League players. It was at the height of the Eagles greatest success, a 1946 championship, where even Effa Manley’s passion and business acumen could not save the league.

During their championship season, Branch Rickey had started a new league to compete against NLB. That league lasted only one year, but it was the opening gambit against NLB that presaged the future.

As more Negro League players were sought after for the Major Leagues, attendance to Negro League games decreased. After losing Larry Doby to the Cleveland Indians and witnessing the departure of Monte Irvin to the New York Giants, the Manleys realized that the days of his club (and the Negro National Leagues) were numbered.

It was an end of an era when the couple divested themselves of the franchise due to mounting financial loses. Like any league the Negro Leagues were filled with the types of personalities, egos and conflicts that are comparable with the maneuverings and manipulations within any pro league.

Due to declining attendance and mounting deficits, in 1947, the Manleys sold the team to Dr. W.H. Young, a Black dentist from Tennessee. Some of the owners of Negro League teams were White but that did not help them when things turned, Manley’s mountain has a bit steeper because she was a woman in a man’s sport.

The team stopped operations in 1948. Manley’s scrapbook is now part of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Manley published Negro Baseball . . . before Integration” in 1976.

For the remainder of her life, she championed for recognition of Black players, especially for Negro League players to be included in the Hall of Fame. Larry Doby was finally enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998. Those who remember Effa Manley, do so with a mixture of respect and affection for she was a woman who played hardball.

This is a story of triumph, as a woman demanded and grudgingly gained respect in a male dominated sport, she called for equality in a race dominated society and she worked tirelessly to the end of her life for the recognition NLB truly deserved.

Effa Manley the first woman Hall of Fame inductee and she was a Hall of Fame person as well. As it is engraved upon her headstone: “She Loved Baseball.”

But she loved her players just as much.