02/14/06 7:32 PM ET
Manley, a true queen in a man's world
Pioneer, businesswoman bridged color gap in baseball
By Justice B. Hill / MLB.com
Born March 27, 1900, Manley was the result of an affair her mother, Bertha Ford Brooks, had with John M. Bishop, a wealthy, white Philadelphian whom she worked for. She'd later marry two black men, so people assumed that because of the black stepfathers that Effa Manley herself was a light-skinned black woman.In a world of choices, Manley did nothing to change their assumptions. She picked what some might call the tougher of the two worlds to find comfort in. She decided to pass for black, a simple task considering her siblings were biracial. Shortly she graduated from high school, Manley found love at Yankee Stadium. She met Abe Manley, a man 24 years her senior, at the 1932 World Series. From girlfriend, she soon became Manley's wife. Abe Manley had the deep pockets to make many things possible for his wife. He'd invested and prospered in real estate, although rumors persisted that Manley's money had come from booking numbers. A baseball fan at his core, he decided to invest some of his money into baseball. In 1935, he started a Negro League team in Brooklyn, a team that he named the Eagles. "I guess he hoped they'd fly high," Effa Manely was once quoted as saying. With other businesses to run, Abe Manley put the Eagles in his wife's hands. She handled the job well. She turned the Eagles into her team. She served as the team's general manager, its traveling secretary, its PR director and its accountant. As de facto owner, Effa Manley acted like the 1930s version of former Oakland A's owner Charles O. Finley. Like Finley, she spoke her mind. Her candor was refreshing among Negro League owners, even if it wasn't always welcomed. "Effa and Abe were constantly maintaining that Negro baseball should be run on a more businesslike basis," Negro League historian Lawrence Hogan wrote in his book, "Shades of Glory."
"They advocated an independent commissioner, more reliable scheduling of games, and enforcement of penalties against players who jumped contracts and the owners who happily received the jumpers."Such high-minded ideals didn't win her friends; those ideals did, however, win her influence and earn her respect. The other owners named Abe Manley as the league's official treasurer, but it was Effa Manley who, in fact, handled the financial ledgers -- for the league and for the Eagles. As concerned as she was for the league itself, Effa Manley showed similar concern for the men that she employed. Few owners in the history of black baseball had the kind of rapport with baseball players that she did. She showed it with her willingness to pay them better wages. She doted over her players, much in the way a mother would a child. In her mind, her players were her extended family. Her generosity toward them was well documented, which included a tale about her lending Irvin the downpayment for his first home. But her openhandedness toward her players came with a high price: obedience. She demanded loyalty from the men who worked for her. Despite her business smarts, Manley couldn't figure out how to hold back the winds of change. By the mid-1940s, baseball was moving beyond segregation; integration was in the air. After Robinson broke the color barrier, the fortunes of the Negro Leagues took a downward turn. Effa Manley and her husband sold the Eagles in 1947. Yet even with no team to run, she remained an advocate for black baseball. Manley wrote, "Negro Baseball ... Before Integration," a 1976 book in which she argued for 73 players whom she felt deserved to be in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Her book came after seven players from the Negro Leagues had already been elected to Cooperstown. Eleven more have since earned induction. Later this month, Effa Manley, who died in 1981, might well join those Negro League colleagues with a spot there. As an influential owner, she made a strong case for herself during her life. "She was a very, very savvy businesswoman who wasn't afraid to use her feminine wilds to get what she wanted," Kendrick said. "Clearly, she was a pioneer; she was an innovator; she was very shrewd; and she was an outstanding owner. "Certainly, from my point of view, she's very worthy of being in the Hall of Fame."
Justice B. Hill is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.