Twenty years ago, Penny Marshall directed the baseball classic 'A League of their Own,' about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). Starring Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Madonna, Rosie O'Donnell, and Oak Park native Megan Cavanaugh (a high school friend of mine, along with Kathy Griffin,) the movie brought back an era that few people, even me, knew about.
Now, Marshall is revisiting the life of Effa Manley (1897-1981) another woman pioneer in the world of baseball. Baseball was Manley's life. She loved the game and fought for inclusion for all, a particularly difficult assignment in the wake of Jim Crow laws. Just as the 'A League of Their Own,' cast a light on women who played a mean game of baseball and got paid to do it it, Marshall will tell the story of the first woman inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
"As a businesswoman in a primarily man’s world, Effa Manley wanted to be a winner. Her election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame as the institution’s first woman electee is a reflection of her commitment to baseball and civil rights, serving as a tribute to her leadership, vision and her dedication to creating respect for Negro leagues baseball."
Baseball Hall of Fame website
Her origins prepared her for a life of fighting for what she perceived as right. Manley was, according to Wikipedia, the product of an extramarital affair between her mother, a seamstress whose origins were dubious...Asian-Indian and Caucasian, Manley said, and her white employer, a wealthy Philadelphian. Her mother's second marriage was to an African-American man, and Manley identified as African-American for the rest of her life.
Manley was beautiful, savvy, determined, and unafraid to speak her mind. As Hall of Famer Monte Irvin remembered:
"She was unique and effervescent and knowledgeable," said Irvin, the Hall of Famer who played shortstop and outfield for the Newark Eagles. "She ran the whole business end of the team."
Monte Irvin, Baseball Hall of Famer, to MLB.com
Manley co-owned the Newark Eagles baseball franchise in the Negro leagues with her husband Abe from 1935 to 1946, according to Wikipedia. She was sole owner through 1948 after his death, fighting for better salaries, better travel conditions, and respect for the Negro Leagues.
Throughout that time, she served as the team's business manager and fulfilled many of her husband's duties as treasurer of the Negro National League.
The Newark Eagles won the Negro League World Series in 1948, defeating the famed Kansas City Monarchs. They did so on the strength of future Hall of Famers Ray Dandridge, Leon Day, Larry Doby, Monte Irvin, Biz Mackey, Mule Suttles and Willie Wells. Manley and her husband gave African-Americans living in New Jersey a haven in Ruppert Stadium, where the Eagles played.
As Bob Luke's book, 'The Most Famous Woman in Baseball' pointed out, Manley also proposed reforms at the Negro leagues’ team owners’ meetings, marched on picket lines, sponsored charity balls and benefit games, and collected money for the NAACP.
Manley was the treasurer of the Newark chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and often used Eagles games to promote civic causes. In 1939 she held an "Anti-Lynching Day" at Ruppert Stadium.
The Baseball Hall of Fame cites Manley's greatest contribution was in fighting for compensation for team owners. A few months following Jackie Robinson’s entry into the major leagues in 1947, according to their website, Manley and the Negro leagues received compensation for Larry Doby, the first African American to play in the American League, thereby establishing a precedent for player compensation. (Apparently, Jackie Robinson came for free from the Kansas City Monarchs. ) Then, Don Newcombe was poached from the Newark Eagles, and Manley took action.
Cleveland Indians owner Bill Veeck called Manley in 1947, inquiring about Larry Doby. They agreed to a deal that ultimately paid the Manleys $15,000 in exchange for Doby, who became the first black player in the American League. The deal established a precedent, and Major League owners from then on paid an average of $5,000 for each Negro Leaguer they signed.
Manley stayed involved in civil rights to the end of her life and contributed artifacts from the Negro Leagues to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Her gravestone reads “She Loved Baseball.”
Marshall was, by her own admission, "fascinated" with Manley. That's why she's directing her story.
"The story is a fascinating tale of a woman who broke through so many barriers and accomplished so much for the players and the game during a time when the face of baseball changed forever. I look forward to begin casting the film."
Penny Marshall to Deadline.com