She is one of five owners on the
of them Cum Posey, W.L. Wilkinson, and C.I. Taylor -- should be
automatic. Posey put together
the Homestead Grays of Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, Cool Papa Bell, Wilson,
and Ray Brown. When the white
majors began their raids, he muttered, Its like coming into a
mans store and stealing the goods right off his
shelves. He died with
those words on his lips.
nominating committee passed over flamboyant Gus Greenlee, who built the great
Pittsburgh Crawfords into perhaps the best black team ever assembled, with
Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, and Oscar
Charleston. He created
the East-West League and helped organize the black All-Star classic, both
of which helped pull black baseball out of the Depression.
But Greenlee was a gambler, who financed the Craws with profits from his
numbers racket, a private lottery, which was then illegal, but
is now conducted by almost every state government in the
For a penny, a man or woman could pick a three-digit number,
1-999. The winning number was
determined by the next days stock
market. The real odds were 1:1,000,
or $10, but the payoff was 1:500, the same as it is today.
Most black owners also ran numbers (though not Wilkinson, Posey, or
Taylor). It was one of the only
ways a black man could raise capital to buy a team -- even Posey had to go
into partnership with a racketeer to keep his team afloat in the
Depression. And none of the
gambler/owners was ever accused of welching on his debts or throwing a
However, I have a hunch that the nominating committee was told to stay
away from Gus.
Instead, it named New York Cubans owner Alejandro
Pompez. I suspect he was named to represent Latin owners in general,
but Pompez not only ran a numbers operation, he was convicted and sent to
Sing Sing penitentiary for it. I
also suspect that the committee didn't mention this when it handed his nomination
to the folks at Cooperstown.
Their fifth choice, Manley, was hard to
Effas husband, Abe, bought the Eagles in the 30s and built
it into a strong club, with Hall of Famers Ray Dandridge, Monte Irvin, and
Larry Doby, plus Don Newcombe. The
last three went to the big leagues.
Along with everyone else, I found Manley a lovely person in every
way. She stood in civil rights
protest lines and lent her players down payments for their homes.
But behind the scenes, it was Abe who ran the
club. In her interview for my 1975 book, Voices From the
Great Black Baseball Leagues, Effa insisted that Abe deserved the credit,
sinking all his money into his team.
Abe and I had a terrific
partnership. He got the club
together, and I took care of the business
details. I never interfered
with the way he ran the club.
After Jackie Robinson was signed by Brooklyn, the white big league raids
began. Branch Rickey grabbed
Newcombe for the same price he paid for Robinson -- nothing.
Far from the sainted Abraham Lincoln of baseball, Rickey was actually
the games Jesse James he never paid a nickel for the Negro League
stars who brought him seven pennants.
But when Branch tried to grab Monte Irvin, Effa threatened to
sue. Rickey backed down immediately,
but the black press screamed at her.
She later sold Irvin to the cross-town New York Giants, who beat the
Dodgers in his first year, 1951.
Now shes on the brink of entering
Cooperstown. I would agree with
the choice on one condition: That
Effa and Abe share the same plaque.
But, alas, Abe was also a numbers
king. So the Hall of Fame faces
a dilemma. It would be hypocritical
to name Effa just because she was a
woman. But it would be a public
relations disaster to reject her.
And the Hall might balk at naming her controversial
If Manley and Pompez get in, how can they keep Pete Rose
out? He never threw a game
Effa is not baseballs first female owner
-- Grace Comiskey of the White Sox was.
She may not even be the most beautiful executive Jean Yawkey
of the Red Sox was a head-turner in her day, the 1940s and
If Cooperstown should ask my opinion, which so far it pointedly has not,
I would say, Past history is
Without gamblers there would have been no Negro
Leagues. And without the Negro Leagues, there would have been no
Jackie Robinson. And maybe no
Willie Mays or Hank Aaron.
The Hall of Fame is a museum to preserve history, not to rewrite
it. Effa Manley could be the
glamorous crowbar that pries open the door to replace myth with history.