Meet Effa Manley: The Only Woman Inducted Into The Baseball Hall Of Fame

As we all know, baseball is that sport for dudes who don't really want to move all that much. Players throw the ball, hit the ball (or not), catch the ball (or not), and sometimes run and let sweat drip from their beards. For all the fans lost in such thrills, we salute you. You've been keeping tabs on players, teams, stadiums, batting averages, RBIs, home runs, and so forth, since the National League of Professional Baseball Clubs played its first game in 1876. This league eventually became the National League (NL), while the American League came later in 1901. They played their first World Series in 1903.

Now, about 150 years later, over 20,000 players have joined the ranks of professional baseball's firsts. Of those, a scant 270 players have been elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Another 72 members comprise executives, umpires, managers, etc. One of those people — only one — is a woman: Effa Louise Manley, inducted in 2006. Scroll down the member list of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and you'll spot her. You'll also notice that she was one of 17 people inducted by the 2006 Special Committee on Negro Leagues. As ThoughtCo outlines, Black Americans had to play in separate leagues all the way through 1952, which makes Manley especially unique. Fansided tells us that Manley had a love of the game, a keen business sense, superb marketing acumen, and pushed hard for better pay and recognition for Black players.

A complicated upbringing and heritage

Effa Manley's childhood was as complex as her parentage, which remained hidden from her until she was a teenager. As SB Nation explains, she was born in Philadelphia in 1897 and raised by her mother, Bertha Ford Brooks. Brooks had a lighter complexion, as did Manley, and she told Manley that they were both white. Eventually, Manley pressed her mother for further answers regarding her heritage, and her mother said that she was an illegitimate child born from a Black man, John Marcus Bishop. As someone who could pass for either white or Black depending on the circumstances or environment, Manley found herself able to get jobs that other people couldn't. And yet, no one in Black Harlem — where she took up residence during the Harlem Renaissance from the 1920s to '30s — realized her interracial background. Manley was also a rabid, lifelong baseball fan. 

Per SB Nation, Manley got married to George A. Bush, a Black man, at 19 years old. They would eventually divorce. Fansided tells us that Manley met her second husband, a Black man named Abraham "Abe" Manley at a Yankees game. They got married, and on her marriage certificate, Manley changed her birth year from 1897 to 1900 for unknown reasons. She also openly marked herself on the certificate as "colored." One year into their marriage, the Negro National League made Abe owner of the Newark Eagles. And Abe, recognizing his wife's love of baseball and prowess for business, made her co-owner.

For the love of the game

By all accounts, Manley excelled in her role managing the business side of the Newark Eagles, scheduling games and venues, organizing travel, negotiating player contracts, doing payroll, taking care of equipment, and more, per Fansided. She also handled the marketing and promotional side of things, as the National Baseball Hall of Fame explains. Along the way she demonstrated an extreme, admirable sense of care for her players, managing to procure a $15,000 bus for the team for travel purposes — quite a luxury at the time — and even acting as godmother to some players' families. Team owners like Cumberland Posey remarked that Manley set an example for the rest of the league. This all worked out well for Manley's personal life, as well, as her husband and team co-owner had no patience for the ins and outs of business, per History.

Manley also interwove her career efforts into the greater, burgeoning Civil Rights Movement. In 1935, for instance, she joined a picket line under the "Don't Buy Where You Can't Work" campaign meant to encourage business owners to hire Black people. She also played a role in bringing players like Jackie Robinson to the attention of the Brooklyn Dodgers, which made Robinson the first Black player in Major League Baseball in 1947. One year prior in 1946, under Manley's guiding hand, the Eagles won the Negro League World Series.

Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006

Manley's final years with the Newark Eagles were among her most involved, as the National Baseball Hall of Fame describes. After Jackie Robinson got signed to the Brooklyn Dodgers, Manley began pushing for greater pay and recognition for other Black players. Even before then, Fay Young of the Chicago Defender said in 1943, "Mrs. Manley knows a few things about baseball and most of the men club owners could take a few tips from her. She is a good business woman." After Manley retired from her role as owner, she wrote a 1976 book, "Negro Baseball — Before Integration." 

In 2006 the Special Committee on the Negro Leagues voted Effa Manley into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Hall of Famer Monte Irvin, who was amongst the first Black major league players in the '40s, said, per History, "She's deserving; she did a lot for the game." Hall of Fame president Dale Petroskey said, "This is a historic day at the Hall of Fame. I hoped that someday there would be a woman in the Hall."

Manley died in 1981 at 84 years old. In her later years, as SB Nation explains, she fell into controversy regarding her racial heritage. In interviews, she stated that her mother's father was of Native American descent and that she actually considered herself white but was raised in a "Negro atmosphere." But whatever the truth, Manley was certainly the first of her kind.