In an era when women and blacks were viewed as second-class citizens and were not considered qualified to compete at baseball’s highest level, Effa L. Manley became a pioneer by breaking down the national pastime’s racial barriers while hurdling the additional obstacle of gender bias.
Born on March 27, 1900 in Philadelphia, PA, Manley was raised in a household with a black stepfather and black half-siblings and chose to live as a black person despite having white biological parents.
Upon graduating from high school, Manley moved to New York, where she met her future husband, Abe Manley, during the 1932 World Series at Yankee Stadium.
"Babe Ruth made a baseball fan of me," Manley once said. "I used to go to Yankee Stadium just to see him come to bat."
After marrying in June of 1935, the Manleys started a Negro League team in Brooklyn later that year, naming the team the Eagles. However, when the Eagles were unable to compete with the Dodgers for fans, they bought the Newark Dodgers, a black semi-pro team, and moved the Eagles to Newark in 1936.
Though she had no prior financial experience, Effa assumed an active role as Eagles co-owner, taking over day-to-day business operations, arranging playing schedules, planning the team’s travel, purchasing equipment, negotiating contracts and handling publicity and promotion.
In the process, Manley became a staunch players' advocate, fighting for better salaries, better schedules and better travel accommodations.
Recognizing that the Eagles were a community resource, Manley was also a crusader and social activist for black civil rights, ensuring that the “team had an image of upholding the black community’s best standards.”
As part of her work for the Citizens' League for Fair Play, Manley organized a 1934 boycott of Harlem stores that refused to hire black salesclerks. After six weeks, the owners of the stores relented, and a year later 300 blacks were employed by stores on 125th Street.
Manley also served as the treasurer of the Newark chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), often using Eagles games to promote civic causes, including an “Anti-Lynching Day” at the team stadium.
Although described as “a sore sport in the NNL (National Negro League) setup” and consistently dogged by complaints that “baseball ain’t no place for a woman,” Manley would persevere, as the Eagles would go on to win the 1946 Negro League World Series under her management.
Despite Manley’s best efforts, the integration of Major League Baseball ultimately forced the Eagles to disband in 1948. Nevertheless, until her death in 1981, Manley devoted herself to keeping the history of Negro League baseball alive.
In 1976, Manley published Negro Baseball...Before Integration, which listed 73 players she felt were qualified for the Hall of Fame. She wrote numerous letters to the Baseball Hall of Fame and publications such as The Sporting News, urging recognition for the league and its players.
On February 27, 2006, Manley became the first woman elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. She was selected for induction by a special committee using new statistics from the Negro Leagues and pre-Negro Leagues.
Manley is buried at the Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, Calif. Her gravestone reads, “She loved baseball.”