Woman in Bronze

Effa Manley is the only woman to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame

March 01, 2012
(NBHOF Library)

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – When one strolls through the Hall of Fame Gallery in Cooperstown, he or she will discover the stories of 295 (soon to be 297 when Barry Larkin and Ron Santo earn their plaques in July) of the most outstanding individuals who ever took part in our National Pastime.

Yet, one plaque in particular might stand out to the unfamiliar visitor – that of Effa Manley.

In 2006, Manley joined 16 other individuals from the Negro Leagues – and the era preceding them in African-American baseball – in earning election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. In achieving this, Manley became the first woman ever inducted, an honor befitting someone who always demanded to be heard.

In the baseball world, Manley earned a reputation for running one of the most professional operations in all of the Negro Leagues. Along with her husband Abe, Manley owned the Newark Eagles from 1936-1948. While Abe provided the finances for the club, Effa ran the business side of the organization.

Operating in a world dominated by men, Manley demanded the most of her players, and fought for better living and travel conditions for them. She also provided Newark with top-quality baseball – as the Eagles consistently finished in the top half of the division, and won the Negro League World Series in 1946.

When Major League Baseball finally integrated a year later, Effa did not fade quietly into the background. Instead, she became a thorn in the side of Major League executives, demanding that Negro League teams receive compensation for the loss of their players to Major League clubs. In selling Eagles’ stars Larry Doby and Monte Irvin to the Indians and Giants, Manley established an important precedent – Major League teams should respect the contracts of Negro League clubs.

Manley’s influence spread beyond the game of baseball, as she became heavily involved with the civil rights movement. In the early 1930s Manley helped organize a boycott against stores in Harlem that refused to hire African Americans. Later, she utilized her position with the Eagles to continue the struggle, sponsoring protest marches and hosting benefit days at the ballpark, including holding an Anti-Lynching Day. She even served as the treasurer and a board member for the Newark Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

For much of her life, Manley kept her own scrapbook, which now resides in the archives of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Flipping through the scrapbook gives one a glimpse into Manley’s mind – what events in her life did she find important? The scrapbook is filled with articles about the Eagles, about her husband Abe, and about her own role in managing the team. The scrapbook also contains articles outside the realm of baseball, and of equal importance to Manley, such as an August, 1934 article from the New York Age announcing the success of Manley’s Harlem boycott, and the hiring of African Americans by the stores targeted.

In her later years, Manley fought for a greater representation of Negro Leaguers among those enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. It is only fitting that her talents as a baseball executive, her struggle on behalf of civil rights, and her commitment to honoring the legacy of the Negro Leagues, eventually earned her the honor of becoming the first woman to have a plaque residing in baseball’s holiest shrine.

Steve Light is the manager of museum programs for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum