Extra inning baseball book reviews for 2020: An emphasis on how Effa Manley was the woman of her time

Queen of the Negro Leagues:
Effa Manley and the Newark Eagles

The author:

James Overmyer

The publishing info:
Rowman & Littlefield
271 pages
Released in April 8, 2020

The links:
At the publisher’s website
At Amazon.com
At BarnesAndNoble.com
At Powells.com
At Indiebound.org

The review in 90 feet or less

Claire Smith, a recent recipient of The Baseball Writers Association of America’s J.G. Taylor Spink Award for her contributions to baseball writing as a reporter and columnist, did a piece on Effa Manley for TheUndefeated.com this month that began:

“If you look deep into the history of the Baseball Hall of Fame, you will find one club owner enshrined who would fit seamlessly into the worldwide cultural revolution that is 2020.
“Effa Manley co-owned the Newark Eagles of the Negro National League with her husband, Abe, and her words and deeds from more than 80 years ago would be just as relevant today.
“We’ve marveled as millions in nascent rainbow coalitions have found their voices, sparked by the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by police in Minneapolis. The footage of a policeman’s knee bearing down on Floyd’s neck caused revulsion throughout the world.
“In this year of celebrating 100 years since the first Negro League game, I can’t help but wonder if Manley is somewhere asking what took the world so long to catch up with her. She lived Black Lives Matter before it was a mantra and a movement.”

As Smith pointed out: In 1939, Manley had vendors at New Jersey’s Ruppert Stadium sell buttons that read “Stop Lynching” for a buck a piece, and the funds went to support legislation in Congress aimed at making the federal government address lynching. That claimed about 6,500 Black lives between 1865 and 1950, according to the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama.

“Lynching remains a federal conversation in 2020,” Smith adds. “In June, Kamala Harris, the only Black woman in the U.S. Senate, was among three to sponsor legislation to finally make lynching a federal hate crime.

“Manley’s fight eight decades ago was before a suddenly ‘woke’ sports world acknowledged the often deadly dangers of living while Black in America.”

It’s time a lot of us woke up to Effa Manley.

The 2006 inductee into Cooperstown for how she keep the Negro Leagues vibrant, and progressive, can be a useful reference these days when one wonders what current MLB ownership are awake to what’s happening in the world.

In Smith’s piece, she also finds a spot to talk to James Overmyer, a voice on the SABR committee for the historical preservation of the Negro Leagues and did his first edition of this book in 1993 as “Effa Manley and the Newark Eagles,” and then updated it in 1998 under the title “Queen of the Negro Leagues”for the American Sports History Series by Scarecrow Press.

With the anniversary of the 1920 launch of the Negro Leagues, this “Centennial Edition” comes back into circulation, not just to mark the occasion but also updated since, in the last 17 years, Overmyer realized so much more can be found with Internet access and more newspaper archives to clarify and bolster the Manley story.

overmyerThe Tucson, Ariz., based Overmyer knows his stuff, having been also part of a 12-person special committee that advocated for 17 people from the Negro Leagues to be included in the National Baseball Hall of Fame some 14 years ago.

Manley, to Overmyer’s delight, became one of them.

Overmyer, who also wrote “Black Ball and the Boardwalk: The Bacharach Giants of Atlantic City 1916-1929” in 2014 as well as “Cum Posey of the Homestead Grays: A Biography of the Negro Leagues Owner and Hall of Famer” earlier this year, explains in the introduction about how it was a SABR business trip to the Hall of Fame with his wife led to this pursuit to learn more about Manley.

“Her picture’s in the museum,” Overmyer’s wife, Ellen, told him, after she toured the Hall. “She did all sorts of progressive things to make Negro league baseball better, but the caption on her picture just calls her the ‘glamor girl of the Negro leagues.’ … You ought to write an article about her.”

“The more I researched,” Overmyer admits, “the more I found evidence of a remarkable woman who unstintingly bucked both racial and gender prejudice to make her mark in the 1930s and 1940s … I’m pleased to see that so much attention is coming to black baseball these days after many years of neglect and I’m proud to make my own contribution.”

Circa 1938: Effa Manley and a Newark Eagles player.

Manley’s Newark Eagles won the Negro League World Series in 1946. Her part of the ownership team included handling contracts and travel schedules. Her greatest contribution finally came as she fought for compensation for team owners and recognition of the Negro Leagues contracts. A few months following Jackie Robinson’s entry into the major leagues in 1947, Manley and the Negro Leagues received compensation from Cleveland Indians owner Bill Veeck — about $15,000 — for claiming  Larry Doby, the first African American to play in the American League. That established a precedent for player compensation and showed the legitimacy of the Negro Leagues, giving the teams a measure of respectability never before seen from the majors.  The great Eagles rosters of her time included future Hall of Famers like Doby, Ray Dandridge, Leon Day, Monte Irvin, Biz Mackey, Mule Suttles and Willie Wells.

Manley Effa Plaque_NBL_0When Manley died in 1981, at which time she was believed to be the last surviving owner of a Negro League baseball team, there were only 10 Negro League players recognized in the Hall. Twenty five years after that, just eight more came in. That 2006 Hall of Fame edict almost doubled the number — and made Manley the only woman about 320-plus to have her own place on the wall.

“Interestingly, in the discussion of her candidacy by the special committee, the issue of her gender seldom came up,” Overmyer writes on page 229. “”She was more often discussed in terms of her effectiveness as an owner.”

Manley’s final years living in Southern California were dedicated to expanding the Negro League recognition — and it would have been something for her to have seen Don Newcombe, one of her players with the Newark Eagles, recognized for his contributions. That still hasn’t happened.

effa-manley-signed-book-negro-baseballbefore-integrationIt is through four extended interviews that Manley gave in the 1970s, as well as co-writing (and self-publishing) her own book in 1976, “Negro Baseball … Before Integration,” that Overmyer could cultivate a consistent account of what she accomplished in her times owning the Eagles with her second husband, Abe. She also donated a large scrapbook to the Negro Baseball Hall of Fame in Kentucky (which then closed, and all its material went to Cooperstown). She also left behind boxes of business files and photographs in the basement of a house in Newark, N.J., she sold int he 1950s and was discovered by a subsequent owner in 1989 and donated them to the city’s public library.

One of Manley’s key contributions to the game, as far as the Negro League’s relationship to the Major Leagues, was standing up for equal compensation when a player of hers was poached by the bigger organization. Most of her scorn came from none other than Rickey as she believed his “mistreatment of the Negro leagues was responsible for their subsequent failures,” Overmyer writes.

Aside from all Manley accomplished in the baseball world, as she deftly moved between the Black and white world of the game because of her biracial skin tone (which has its own interesting family tree of research), it’s also of importance to us that she spent the last few decades of her live in Southern California.

Manley felt some connection to the Dodgers — the team that was also in Brooklyn in 1936 when she owned the Eagles, and then moved to Newark. She moved to the Silver Lake area of L.A. in the late ’40s, and stayed connected to Newcombe.

Her final resting place — Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City — isn’t far from another New York transplant, Walter O’Malley, who also had his Brooklyn professional team of note.

Effa burial
From Ralph Carhart’s book, “The Hall Ball,” a map of the grave sites he visited of those who had been inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

In the end, the epitaph on her tombstone said it best:


How it goes in the scorebook

A complete-game triumph at a most opportune moment in the game’s retelling of its history.

If only someone does a movie about her life … we could somehow see Halle Berry as the leading role.

More on Manley

== Coming in 2021: “Baseball’s Leading Lady: Effa Manley and the Rise and Fall of the Negro Leagues,” by Andrea Williams
== “She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story,” by Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Don Tate, from 2010, for grades kindergarten-to-fifth.
== “The Most Famous Woman in Baseball: Effa Manley and the Negro Leagues” by Bob Luke, in 2011
== “Lady Moguls: A History of Woman Who Have Owned Major League Baseball Teams,” by William A. Cook, from 2015
== Her bio in the SABR archives.

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