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Baseball Analysis  John Holway

“A woman!?” --


By John B Holway

            On February 27 the hallowed Halls of Cooperstown may open their doors to its first woman ever, the glamorous co-owner of the Negro League Newark Eagles, Effa Manley.

EffaEffa, who was white, was famous for posing prettily on the dugout steps.  Batters couldn't help watching her instead of the ball.

About 30 years ago I suggested her name to Joe Reichler of commissioner Bowie Kuhn’s office.  Poor Joe, already fuming about more black veterans in the Hall, almost keeled over in a fit.  A woman!?” he cried, clutching his heart.  I almost summoned the cardiac emergency squad.

Then, her gender was cause to keep her out.  Now, it’s a powerful reason to put her in.


John B Holway is author of The Complete Book of the Negro Leagues.  His Blackball Tales, and TED, the Kid will be published in 2006.

Effa has been nominated among 39 blacks to be voted on February 27 and inducted in July.  Jim Gates, Cooperstown’s librarian, assures me that there was no arm-twisting to put her in.

She is one of five owners on the ballot. 

Three 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, “It’s like coming into a man’s store and stealing the goods right off his shelves.”  He died with those words on his lips.

GreenleeThe 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 nation. 

For a penny, a man or woman could pick a three-digit number, 1-999.  The winning number was determined by the next day’s 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 game. 

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 resist. 

Effa’s 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 game’s 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 she’s 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 husband.

If Manley and Pompez get in, how can they keep Pete Rose out?  He never threw a game either.

Effa with Ted WilliamsEffa is not baseball’s 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 ‘50s.

If Cooperstown should ask my opinion, which so far it pointedly has not, I would say, “Past history is past.” 

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.

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