Manleys Changed Face of Black Baseball; Couple Enshrined Sport in City’s Heart

Groups and Communities
Published October 21, 1999

Manleys Changed Face of Black Baseball; Couple Enshrined Sport in City’s Heart

| Published October 21, 1999

Abraham Manley, left, co-owner of the Newark Eagles, and Bill White, general assistant, jog the first base line in 1946 with one of their star players. The Newark Public Library

With the World Series upon us, we turn our attention to the sports world and one of Newark's illustrious figures of the 1930s and 1940s—Effa Manley, the queen of black baseball.

While sports has had a place in Newark from the early part of the last century, it was the past 100 years that illuminated the city's name nationwide. Little or no record remains of the hard-working Puritans or even the colonial farmers taking time off to engage in any sort of recreational pursuits. But with the waves of 19th century immigrants that began to wash onto our shores, people began to take time to engage in sports. In the city's early days, rowing and ice skating were popular sports. But the organized sport which became the lifeblood of 20th century Newark was baseball, for the city had two of the best minor league teams in America, the Bears and the Eagles. This summer the roar of the Bears was heard again, with the opening of Riverfront Stadium, owned by Rick Cerone, who grew up in the North Ward and went on to play with the New York Yankees. The Eagles, unfortunately, were lost to history years ago. Nevertheless, old-time Newarkers still remember the team and its husband and wife owners Abraham Lincoln Manley and Effa Manley.

Newark had passed through many stages of development by the time baseball became big business in the 1930s and 1940s. The city was a melting pot with phase after phase of immigration that made the city home to the Scotch-Irish, Irish, Germans, Italians, Poles, and central Europeans. It had its vast armies of Catholics and Jews. And women, too, had come into prominence as they were added to the labor force, encouraged to work in its World War I war plants. About the same time, a new wave of Negroes began to settle in Newark, mainly because of its importance as an industrial center. It was a city that always needed a large labor force to operate its factories, warehouses and transportation facilities. Newark also was a town recovering from the sting of the Great Depression that soon would benefit economically from the war effort. All of this also made it a place that required plenty of recreational sources for its working citizens 'to let off steam' or just relax in their spare time. Just as the movie house became important in Newark, so did the ballfields. The time was right and the stage set for Newark's love affair with minor league baseball.

The Eagles' daily operations were pretty much evenly divided between the Manleys. Abe was constantly scouting for and developing new talent as well as adding to the mystique of the team within the community. Effa, on the other hand, was the mother hen who ran the office, watched the money and worked on the team's public relations image. She was so proud of always paying the players and creditors on time, as well as being a surrogate parent. After a decade of hard work by its owners and managers, the Eagles' had a banner year in 1946. During that championship season, the team won the Negro World Series, besting the American League's Kansas City Monarchs. By that time, worries about players going off to war were over, and so were problems of transporting the team because of wartime restrictions. Leon Day, Larry Doby, Monte Irvin, Max Manning, Leon Ruffin and Charlie Parker were all back and ready to bring victory. Newark won the title, and so, wrote Overmyer, 'at last, the Eagles were the princes of the kingdom of black baseball.'

This triumph sadly also marked the beginning of the end. Black baseball, Newark, and the nation were changing. As Jackie Robinson moved into the world of white baseball, others followed, depleting the storehouse of valuable black league players. The departure from the league of Newark's Larry Doby, Monte Irvin and Don Newcombe devastated the club. The team that drew 120,000 in 1946 saw only 38,000 fans in 1948. By the end of the 1948 season the Manleys disbanded the team. What a situation to find yourself in, and what would you do? Said Effa, 'Our troubles started after Jackie Robinson joined the Dodgers.' She complained that the Dodgers' Branch Rickey was not interested in Robinson, only in the 'clicking of his turnstiles.' 'Baseball,' she said, 'has become a rich man's hobby, and we're not rich.' In her eyes, Brooklyn raided her team without compensation, while the Cleveland Indians paid for new black players, rewarding the Manleys for a lifetime of work and energy. Monte Irvin's contract, for example, was consummated with a check for $15,000. Effa Manley spent part of the money to buy a fur coat. Years later Irvin commented that she had made a good purchase. She responded, 'So did the Giants.'

American black baseball owes a considerable debt to the Manleys, formerly of 71 Crawford St., Newark, New Jersey. As individuals they represented special qualities that made them unique to Newark. Abe Manley was born in North Carolina in 1885. He later lived in Norfolk, Va., and then moved to Camden, where he was a numbers banker in the black community, and became popular in local black society. In 1930 Abe, by then a man of considerable wealth, moved to Harlem into upper class black society through his involvement in the real estate business. By his mid-40s he was characterized as a 'wealthy retired Camden, N.J. broker.' Effa Manley was born in 1897 or 1902 and died in 1981. During her lifetime, she earned several titles: 'The First Lady of Black Baseball,' 'The Glamour Girl of Negro Baseball,' 'Mother Hen of the Eagles,' 'Princess of Black Baseball,' 'The Leading Lady of Baseball,' and even 'The Beauteous Effa.' Confusion reigns about her early life. Many who think of her as African-American are surprised to learn of her Caucasian parents. She was the daughter of a white seamstress mother, Bertha Ford, and New York City financier John M. Bishop, but elected to spend her entire life in the black world. Her story is further complicated by the fact that her brothers and sisters were fathered by an African-American. Therefore she was considered black by others. Bertha, Effa's mother, was later married to an African-American, with whom she had six children. Effa Manley attended William Penn High School in Philadelphia, and moved to New York City in 1916, where she lived in an apartment house that baseball great Smokey Joe Williams also called home. As a famous early ball player, he apparently helped influence her interest in the sport. After a brief marriage to a Mr. Bush, the couple separated. She later met Abe Manley who became her lifelong love and soul mate. They married and set up housekeeping at 741 St. Nicholas Avenue in the 'Sugar Hill' section controlled by mobster Dutch Schultz.

Role model

Her role as loving wife, baseball team manager, civil rights activist, antagonist of segregation as well as personal rights champion, won her many heartfelt and genuine accolades from rich and poor, black and white, townspeople and suburbanites as well as the high and low of society. In 1939, a Newark News reporter wrote, 'You don't have to go far to pick out baseball's career woman No. 1. Right here in this city we have Mrs. Abraham Lincoln Manley.' He went on to say: 'Effa knows what it is to sit through a victory, squirm through defeat, pore over the ledgers, deal out payrolls, dig up players, make travel arrangements, and handle a mass of important correspondence. She knows players personally, their likes and dislikes, and what they do and say. On the local scene Effa can tell you about her struggles she had getting her club away from the rickety ball lot at Ollemer Field into a first-class park such as Ruppert Stadium.' In 1942, the dean of sports writers, Willie Ratner, stated 'Effa's knowledge of the Negro in baseball is amazing. She can take you back to 1872 when the first colored player of note played on a white team. She could talk endlessly about Sud Fowler and Walter Fleet, who caught for Toledo in the American Association in 1882, and she remembered details about Fran Grant who joined the International League in 1887. In addition all her talents as a baseball magnate, she was a darned good cook.'

Unfortunately, all good things do come to an end and so did the Newark Eagles. The bittersweet taste of success of Newark's African-American baseball stars moving into the major leagues decimated the home team. At the same time, however, the color barrier had been broken forever. Jim Overmyer perhaps best describes what happened: 'Fans would travel 200 miles to see Jackie (Robinson) play, attendance fell off 50 percent, Larry Doby was sold to the all-white Cleveland Indians and Bill Veeck was to integrate the American League as (Branch) Rickey had the other league. Doby was the team's backbone, and Effa probably saw the writing on the wall. Following a winning year, they lost the pennant and the team finished third in 1948.' Later that year the Eagles were sold to Memphis. The team later relocated to Houston. Everything went—all the team's assets, the player's contracts and even the fancy bus. Effa and Abe turned away from their 'child,' exiting an exciting era forever. Abe died in 1952 at the age of 67 from prostate trouble and uremia. His pallbearers included Monte Irvin and Larry Doby. He was buried at Newark's Fairmount Cemetery. Effa sold their Crawford Street home and briefly moved back to Philadelphia. From there it was on to Los Angeles and a brief marriage. She died in 1981. Her scrapbook has been donated to the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, N. Y., but the files of the Eagles were rescued by Eric Adams, the current owner of the Manleys' Crawford Street house. They are now part of the Newark Public Library's Special Collections Department—the New Jersey Information Center—and are available on microfilm. The Manleys are gone, Ruppert Stadium is but a memory and the old Grand Hotel, where so much of the team history was played out, has disappeared. Still, the spirit of 1940s Newark lives on in the minds of many, just as they remember the Velodrome, outdoor concerts in the old School Stadium and the band shell in Branch Brook Park. All have become part of our city's rich history.