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Effa Manley Becomes First Woman in Baseball Hall of Fame

February 28, 2006 at 12:00 AM EDT

RAY SUAREZ: She never played on the field but left her mark on the Negro leagues and beyond once baseball’s color barrier was broken. Manley was co-owner of the Newark Eagles during the 1930s and ’40s. Yesterday she became the first woman ever elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. She was one of 17 people from the era of black baseball specially elected to the Hall of Fame.

Here to tell us more about Effa Manley is Leslie Heaphy, a member of the committee that elected Manley. She’s an associate professor of history at Kent State University and author of the book “The Negro Leagues.”

Professor Heaphy, beyond her gender, which was already unique in the world of baseball, what made Effa Manley a standout executive?

LESLIE HEAPHY: Well, I think probably the biggest thing was she was unafraid to speak up for things that she believed in, for causes that she thought were important, regardless of whether they were a popular or sometimes unpopular view.

She was willing to challenge her fellow owners on a variety of topics. From looking through her papers, it’s very apparent, for example, that at one point she thought some of the owners were taking advantage sometimes with their players and that they needed to realize that the way they treated their players would translate into how they played for them and the way the league was perceived and she thought that was something that needed to be discussed.

JIM LEHRER: Well, by contrast, how did she treat her own players on the Newark Eagles?

LESLIE HEAPHY: She was an incredible businesswoman who, while very interested of course in making a profit for the team, sometimes accused of being a little frugal, but they were always amazed that her good business sense didn’t translate into scrimping her players, not giving them the best of travel accommodations.

One of the things that she thought was very important was the way you treated the players, the way they were perceived was important to the community, and so she treated her players very, very well.

JEFFREY BROWN: She also, it was said, could be tough on owners in Major League Baseball especially once the color barrier was broken.

LESLIE HEAPHY: Oh, absolutely. That’s probably one of the things that she’s most known for is after Jackie Robinson was signed by Branch Ricky away from the Kansas City Monarchs, J. Wilkinson, the owner, was not compensated for Robinson and he didn’t really make a big issue out of it but it was apparent at that point that if Robinson succeeded, others would follow and they would be interested in other players from the Negro Leagues, and Effa Manley was absolutely adamant about the idea that the Negro Leagues should be compensated for those players.

In fact she highly objected to Branch Ricky calling the Negro Leagues — he said they were nothing more than a racquet – that they had no organization, they had no contracts, therefore they did not deserve to be recognized and there was no need to give them any compensation and she of course insisted that that was absolutely not true that any players of hers that were going to be signed, she should be compensated just like any other team, league that, they were the same. And eventually, she held her ground and she won and when Larry Doby was signed, they were compensated for Doby.

And that was a really tough thing for her to do because that’s an example of one of those very, not necessarily completely unpopular ideas, but it was a tough line to walk because some of the other owners didn’t — were afraid to press the issues for fear of looking like they were against integration, and that they were standing in the way of the opportunities for their players. And so that was the tough line she had to walk but for Effa, the bigger issue, was, I have a contract with these players, I’m go going to lose something, I should be compensated and anyone in our league should be compensated just as if they were signing them from anywhere else.

RAY SUAREZ: Later in life she worked hard to get black players into the Hall of Fame in the first place, long after she was out of baseball, didn’t she?

LESLIE HEAPHY: Absolutely. She continued to be very interested. She actually co-wrote a book on the Negro Leagues in the 1970s and then when the opportunity presented itself after Satchel Paige went into the Hall of Fame, she took it upon herself to write letters to the Hall of Fame encouraging them to think beyond just the Satchel Paiges to some of the other players; and it’s interesting to me that two of the players she championed were Mule Suttles and Biz Mackey, who were both elected yesterday as well.

RAY SUAREZ: She, according to one of the members of your committee, he said, I guess you could say she’s the blackest white woman in the world. It was pretty unusual in the first half of the last century for a white woman to choose to live in Black America, wasn’t it?

LESLIE HEAPHY: Oh, certainly. But I don’t think for everything that she herself said later on, that was ever really a choice for her. She said that was the family in which she grew up, the environment in which she grew up and that was who she was. And she didn’t actually learn herself of her parentage until she was a teenager.

RAY SUAREZ: So until then, she would have just thought of herself as a light-skinned black woman?

LESLIE HEAPHY: Exactly. Exactly. And that’s exactly how she saw herself and she didn’t realize the real reason for the difference.

RAY SUAREZ: Professor Heaphy, thanks for being with us.

LESLIE HEAPHY: Thank you very much. Appreciate it.