In day of Hall firsts, Manley stands out
First woman in Cooperstown also a Negro League legend
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Effa Manley had long been viewed as a crusader and a pioneer, so seeing her blaze a trail into the National Baseball Hall of Fame for other women shouldn't come as a surprise to anybody.
And that's what Manley did, too. On Sunday, she became the first woman and one of 17 new inductees from "black baseball" admitted into Cooperstown.
Her plaque there reads in part:
"A trailblazing owner and tireless crusader in the civil rights movement who earned the respect of her players and fellow owners. As business manager and co-owner of the Eagles, ensured team's financial success with creative promotions and advertising. Beloved by fans because she integrated her players into the community and fielded consistently competitive teams, highlighted by 1946 Negro Leagues World Series championship."
The words do Manley justice. During her decade-long career in baseball, she proved the business equal of any franchise owner in black baseball. She respected the sport and its deep, rich traditions, and she also pampered her players, a rare thing at the time. In return, they showered Manley with the everlasting respect that was uncommon for owners to get.
In a biography of Manley, one author boldly labeled her "Queen of the Negro Leagues," and the title fit Manley's persona like "Stan the Man" fit Stan Musial or "Cool Papa" fit James Bell.
The title "queen" wasn't an exaggeration or a PR man's hyperbole. For Effa Manley was baseball royalty.
"She didn't sit back," said Leslie Heaphy, a history professor at Kent State University and one of the 12 members of the committee that selected the Negro Leagues inductees. "She took charge; and it didn't matter to her who she was. She wasn't gonna let the men not let her have her say. I found that amazing."
Take-charge women weren't the standard in the 1930s and '40s. The role for women then, during a fledgling period for women's suffrage, was behind the scenes. They took on the stereotypical duties of the complement to the powerful man.
No doubt Manley's husband was powerful. He was wealthy, and he could afford to indulge his wife. It was his money, after all, that bought the Eagles. It was Effa Manley's savvy and business smarts that turned the team into a success.
Few women could say as much in America. Those women who could didn't carve out success in sports. In that regard, Effa Manley was a singular exception.
"That was so unusual -- even still," Heaphy said. "In the '30s and '40s, that was incredible, and the fact that most people thought she was black added to that. She was battling that idea of two strikes against her -- black and a woman.
"I found that amazing."
So did others, particularly the people who see the gender struggle the same kind of blight on America as the racial struggle.
"Speaking on behalf of the 17 inductees, Sharon Robinson, the daughter of Jackie Robinson, put it best. She said, "I would like to thank the Hall for opening its doors to a deserving woman."
Effa Manley, of course, was that woman.
Justice B. Hill is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.