Effa Manley, the only woman in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, was an advocate for Black athletes, a passionate supporter of baseball in the Negro leagues, a champion for civil rights and equality…and far ahead of her time.
In an era when few women were involved in sports management, Manley was the do-everything business manager for the Newark Eagles of the Negro National League. In the 1930s and '40s, when she and her husband owned a Negro League team, she challenged fellow owners, who were all male. Later, she confronted Major League Baseball, pushing it to recognize Negro League players, who had been ignored by the Hall of Fame.
And her belief in herself was unwavering.
Kim Ng, the only female general manager in Major League Baseball, draws inspiration from the largely unheralded figure from an era when people of color faced rampant discrimination and women dealt with overt sexism.
“One of the reasons that Effa Manley’s story is so incredibly compelling and inspirational is so much of her work was done 70-80+ years ago,” says Ng, who was named Miami Marlins general manager in 2020. “...She worked behind the scenes and at the forefront of our industry to fight for equality. The struggle was real, and it was hard-fought.
"She is truly inspiring.”
Manley Advocates for Black Community
Born March 27, 1897, Manley grew up in Philadelphia, daughter of Bertha and John Brooks. In a 1977 interview with a University of Kentucky oral history project, Manley said she was a product of her mother's affair with John Marcus Bishop, a wealthy white man. But researchers have been unable to confirm the identity of her father. The 1870 census lists Effa's mother as mixed race, according to research by Jim Overmyer, author of the first Manley biography, and the Society for American Baseball Research.
But Manley lived her life identifying as a Black woman, tirelessly supporting the African American community. “Everything in my life has been Black,” Manley told sportswriter Henry Hecht of the New York Post in 1975.
In his Manley biography, Queen of the Negro Leagues, Overmyer describes her advocacy for African Americans. In 1934, as a member of Harlem’s Citizens League for Fair Play, a civil rights organization, Manley aimed to get Black people hired at L.M. Blumstein, a white-owned department store on 125th Street. In a discussion with store management, Manley pushed for an African American to be hired as a sales clerk.
At a meeting with a Blumstein family member and his attorney, the store representatives pushed back. “You know, Mr. Blumstein,” Manley said, “we think just as much of our colored girls as you do your young, white girls. And there’s just no work for them… The only thing they can find to do is work in someone’s home as a maid or become a prostitute.”
Blumstein’s attorney was aghast. “Well, it’s the truth,” Manley said. “I’m only telling you what’s true.” Blumstein eventually hired African American workers, used Black mannequins and hired an African American to portray Santa Claus.
“She was that way before she was in baseball, and she was that way after she was in baseball,” Overmyer says. “If she thought it was the way it should be, she went after it.”
Manley’s Involvement in Baseball Begins
At a New York Yankees World Series game in 1932, Manley met Abraham Manley, whom she married a year later. In November 1934, Abraham—who made his money as a “numbers banker” in Camden, New Jersey, and spent lavishly on his wife—bought the Brooklyn Eagles of the Negro League.
Abe was interested in baseball but wasn’t keen on front-office work. He eventually asked Effa to assume more duties until, she said in the 1977 interview, “little by little, I found myself doing more and more, and I finally just ended up completely involved.” Manley had no management training. In 1916, she finished high school in Pennsylvania, studying millinery–women's hat making.
In 1935, the Manleys bought the Newark Dodgers, combined the team with the Eagles and moved to Ruppert Stadium in Newark. Effa became de facto Negro National League treasurer; Abe had the title, but no interest in the duties.
Effa oversaw the Newark Eagles' operations, from marketing to finances. She did media interviews, negotiated contracts, ensured players got paid, booked travel in Black-only hotels, and ordered uniforms. (Effa made sure her players got them from the same company that supplied MLB.) Manley even helped players find off-season jobs.
When Manley wasn’t sitting in the stands with fans at games, she might be found hobnobbing with celebrities such as pianist and composer Eubie Blake, actress and civil rights activist Lena Horne and boxing champion Joe Louis.
At a Negro League off-season meeting, a heated argument broke out when Abe and Effa advocated hiring an African American agent to book games at Yankee Stadium. Other owners, some among the premier Black businessmen of the day, disagreed. So, Effa called them “a bunch of handkerchief heads." That was akin, Overmyer says, to calling them "Uncle Toms," a highly disparaging term to call a Black person.
Cumberland Posey, a powerful owner of the Homestead Grays, stormed out of the meeting, telling Abe to keep his wife at home.
“In the beginning, the men were a little bit, I believe, disturbed at this woman entering the picture,” Effa said in the 1977 interview. “But not long. They received me very nicely. And they saw how important I was to Abe, and everybody was crazy about him.”
Manley Feuds with Dodgers GM Branch Rickey, MLB
In the 1940s, when Major League Baseball pursued stars of Negro leagues, Manley feuded with the management from big-league teams. One of her adversaries was Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey, who signed Negro League star Jackie Robinson, the player who broke MLB's color barrier in 1947. Rickey also lured Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe, who became Dodgers stars, too.
Rickey called the Black players' advancement to the big leagues “emancipation”—Manley called it thievery. “He didn’t give us five cents or say thank you,” she recalled.
When Rickey attended a 1946 Black Yankees-Eagles game in New York with two of his scouts, Manley confronted him in the stands. According to a story in the Camden Courier-Post on July 6, 1946, Manley told Rickey she could “make trouble” for him on the Newcombe transaction and that she expected compensation if any other players left for the majors.
When Cleveland Indians owner Bill Veeck offered Manley $10,000 for Larry Doby, the first Black player in the American League, she told Veeck she’d be getting $100,000 if Doby were white.
Manley even suggested to MLB that the Negro leagues should be part of its minor league system. But the president of the minor leagues sent his wife to discuss the issue, Manley said in 1977, and the Negro leagues never were affiliated with MLB.
“[MLB's] excuse was the Negroes weren’t good enough,” she said.
But Manley strongly believed Negro League players were the best in baseball. No team, she said, could have beaten her 1946 Negro League champion Newark Eagles, which produced seven Hall of Famers in her 13-year association with the team.
Eventually, the movement to MLB by stars such as Robinson led to the Negro leagues' demise. Manley’s Eagles disbanded after the 1948 season.
Baseball Hall of Fame Inducts Effa Manley
After Abe died in 1952, Manley moved to Washington, D.C., and then Los Angeles. She married twice more (calling both mistakes), and remained active in causes for the disabled, the arts and the African American community. In 1975, she and Leon Herbert Hartwick co-wrote Negro Baseball … Before Integration.
In her later years, Manley was embittered that generations of fans “didn’t know that there ever was this wonderful, magnificent Black baseball.” She worked tirelessly to champion Black ballplayers.
“Prejudice is something that I guess will always be with us,” said Manley, who was 84 when she died in 1981. “And I think that (in) the majors, the men who owned the teams, they were well versed. They knew what it was all about. And I think they knew what would happen is just what has happened. The Negroes would come in and would start wrecking records.”
Former Negro League standouts Hank Aaron and Willie Mays, among others, became MLB stars and are ranked among the sport's all-time greats.
In 2006, Manley was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. In part because of her advocacy for them, she has been joined by 34 other Negro League standouts, including Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, Satchel Paige and Buck Leonard. At the Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, visitors may even purchase a bobblehead doll of Manley.
Overmyer believes Manley's success eventually opened doors for Ng. But the Marlins' GM says Effa faced much higher hurdles.
“My battle has been perception,” Ng says. “[Manley's] battle was against an entire system, legal and otherwise.
"I am humbled and honored to be mentioned in the same breath as her.”