The book: “The Most Famous Woman in Baseball: Effa Manley and the Negro Leagues”
The author: Bob Luke
The vital stats: Potomac Books, 256 pages, $27.95
The pitch: Her headstone at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City reads “She Loved Baseball.” Effa Manley was 84 (or there abouts) when she died in L.A. exactly 30 years ago today, believed to be the last surviving owner of a franchise in the Negro Leagues.
You do have to wonder what Marge Schott, the late owner of the Cincinnati Reds who enjoyed her eclectic collection of Nazi propaganda, racial slurs and St. Bernard dogs, would have to say about this bulldog of a woman.
Granted, her name didn’t come on most baseball people’s radar until she was among the list of Negro League nominees for the Baseball Hall of Fame, and was then inducted as the first woman into the shrine in 2006.
In some ways, she and Schott shared one interesting personality trait — they never minced words.
As Luke shows with his research, Manley once wrote a letter to sportswriter Art Carter, saying she hoped they could meet soon because “I would like to tell you a lot of things you should know about baseball.”
Maybe that’s why Doc Young, a sportswriter for the Los Angeles Sentinal, referred to her once as “vitrolic.”
What did she know? Basically, from 1936 to 1948, she ran the National Negro League’s Newark Eagles, which her husband, Abraham Lincoln Manley, bought when it was in Brooklyn (sharing Ebbets Field with the Dodgers) and moving it to New Jersey. She was responsible for recruiting players like Monte Irvin, Satchel Paige and Don Newcombe to play for her team.
On top of it, she was way ahead of the curve in social justice marching, trying to eliminate Jim Crow standards and level the playing field for employees that included names such as Christopher “Crush” Holloway, Bill “Cannonball” Jackman, Clarence “Fats” Jenkins and Bob “Glasseye” Evans (we can’t get enough of those kinds of references).
An excerpt that shows what Effa Manley was all about comes during an owners meeting where a debate arose about who would be the league’s next commissioner.
From page 57: “(The other owners) heard Effa’s voice above the din yelling, ‘We are fighting for something bigger than a little money! We are fighting for a race issue. In other words, what we are doing here has become more important than we.’ At that, (owner Cum) Posey jumped up and left the meeting, vowing not to return until “Abe could keep his wife at home where she belonged.’ … The Afro-American (newspaper) ran a group photograph of the men in attendance with a separate photograph of a smiling Effa captioned ‘Stormy Petrel.'”
While Effa butted heads with such people at Branch Rickey and even Jackie Robinson, it’s her relationship with Newcombe, who simply drove up to the Manley’s apartment one day to introduce himself in 1943, that is of particular interest to Dodgers franchise followers.
After Newcombe (pictured, right, with Manley while looking at her scrapbook in 1973) had a 0-4 record “in league games for which he got the decision and had to be relieved in many others,” Manley wrote a letter to his parents explaining that he had the makings to “become one of the outstanding pitchers'” but “he was showing a big head. This is bad.” She explained that she was paying a “big salary” to (another player) so he could help Newcombe, and she offered him a raise of $170 to $200 a month. “I wish Donald the best of luck, but I do hate to see him getting off so completely on the wrong foot.”
Luke adds: “Her letter had the intended effect.”
Rickey later signed Newcombe to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1946 “without talking to Abe or Effa … (and) Rickey’s actions infuriated Effa. ‘Rickey took (Jackie) Robinson, Newcombe and (Roy) Campanella from our Negro baseball and didn’t even say thank you,’ she wrote. ‘He took Newcombe from me, so I know that I’m talking about.'”
Thankfully, Luke is able to draw upon many of Manley’s actual correspondences that she kept on file from 1938 to ’46, althought she did leave the files behind in New Jersey when she moved to L.A. later in her life, but they were discovered by a contractor and donated to the Newark Library. Her personal scrapbook found its way to the Baseball Hall of Fame — as did she.
How it goes down in the scorebook: Timothy Gay, author of last year’s book, “Satch, Dizzy & Rapid Robert: The Wild Saga of Interracial Baseball Before Jackie Robinson,” writes in a quick review: “Had Effa Manley’s real life ever been submitted as a Hollywood script, it would have been rejected as too far-fetched. Effa was part temptress, part civil rights crusader, and all shrewd and calculating businesswoman. In the capable hands of esteemed blackball historian Bob Luke, her life story becomes symbolic of the Negro leagues themselves: cool, defiant, and incandescent. What a great read!”
As compelling a story as Manley’s life may be, this version can be a slow read at times because of tedious notes included on almost every page. We appreciate trying to document everything, but the true Manley really has to fight through the paragraphs to get out to the reader. Still, the effort will be rewarded.
Also: Last year, Audrey Vernick wrote the children’s book, “She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story.” Definitely, an easier read ….