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Negro Leagues Spotlight: Effa Manley

A mother has a special place in one’s heart and has a lifetime of influence. I know, as even today, years after my mother’s passing, I think of her daily and she continues to impact my life.

If Major League Baseball were in business today, players would be paying tribute to their moms by wearing pink shoes, swinging pink bats, and making donations to women’s related charities. It’s a really enjoyable part of the schedule, and one that I’ll miss as a fan.

But baseball isn’t just honoring women these days. Today baseball is finally including them as a true part of our national pastime. Two of the most most recent steps are the San Francisco Giants hiring Alyssa Nakken to be a full-time part of their major league coaching staff and Yankees naming Rachel Balkovec as a full-time minor league hitting coach.

These are historical hires by influential organizations within the sport. Don’t be surprised to see more clubs follow suit.

Should Nakken and Balkovec seek inspiration in their role as trailblazers, they can look to Cooperstown.

There is one woman in the Baseball Hall of Fame – Effa Manley. Manley was part owner, along with her husband Abe, of the Newark Eagles of the Negro National League from 1935 through 1948. She ran the day-to-day operations, and helped put together one of the greatest teams of all time – the 1946 Negro League World Series champion Eagles. Newark fielded three future Hall of Famers – infielders Monte Irvin and Larry Doby, both of whom went on to star in Major League Baseball, and pitcher Leon Day. The squad was managed by Hall of Famer Biz Mackey.

Manley was a hands on owner, and her influence over the franchise was evident as she handled all major functions of the organization. Her players were well paid, were paid on time, and taken care of on the road – not a guarantee with Negro League teams. She has a strong business sense that was grudgingly respected by her all-male counterparts. She negotiated the sale of Doby’s contract to Bill Veeck and his Cleveland Indians in 1947, setting a precedent for compensation to Negro League teams as many of their players made the move to MLB.

Not only was Manley known for her skill in managing the Eagles franchise, but was recognized as a civic leader as well. She led successful efforts and boycotts against businesses who refused to hire African American employees, organized anti-lynching events at the ballpark, and put together numerous charitable benefits.

In her later years, Manley was a tireless advocate for the legacy of the Negro Leagues, advocating for their recognition by the Major Leagues, and by inclusion in the Hall of Fame. Her book Negro Baseball…Before Integration was one of the first efforts to document the great players of the Negro Leagues. Twenty-five years after her death in 1981, she herself was enshrined in 2006.

Part of Manley’s recognition comes from her success as a woman in a fiercely man’s world. As we’ve seen with recent MLB hires, that is changing slowly; slower than many would like.

Do not doubt though, that strong, capable women are coming to baseball. The sport will be better for it

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