When I wrote SHE LOVED BASEBALL: THE EFFA MANLEY STORY, one of my go-to resources was a book by James Overmyer, QUEEN OF THE NEGRO LEAGUES. At the time, it was the only existing biography of Effa Manley.
Author Bob Luke has just come out with another, and has graciously agreed to be my guest for a short interview here about his experience writing about Effa Manley in his new book, THE MOST FAMOUS WOMAN IN BASEBALL.
What attracted you to Effa Manley’s story?
She caught my attention as I was working on my two previous Negro league books – – a biography of Willie Wells, who played for and managed the Eagles – – and a team history of the Baltimore Elite Giants who played in the same league as the Eagles. I kept hearing this passionate, assertive, female voice pushing for efficiency, fairness, and equality in a crowd of good ole boys who turned a deaf ear to her pleas to their lasting detriment. I had to find out more about her.
Do you have a favorite Effa anecdote?
I can’t say I have a favorite anecdote, but I do admire her style and consistency. She never backed down from players, sportswriters, team owners, major league officials, the Mexican consulate – – anyone she thought stood in her way. At the same time she was thoughtful and considerate toward those who served the team well – – helping former players with loans for homes and businesses, sending Christmas packages to players in Europe during World War II, and thanking sportswriters who gave what she considered to be informed coverage to herself and the team.
In what ways do you think the Eagles differed from other Negro League teams and in what ways were those differences attributable to Effa?
I don’t think the Eagles differed much from the other teams. They all played on a shoestring, their star players were forever jumping the team for better pay elsewhere, they traveled long days and nights on rickety buses to a never ending series of scheduled league games and barnstorming games, all while contending with Jim Crowism. Eagles’ players received more advice than players probably did on other teams. Effa advised them on all manner of things – – how to dress, comport themselves in public, handle their money, where to live, never go places alone, don’t drink too much. She never failed to criticize players who showed up late for spring training or defaulted on loans. She always had the welfare of her team and the behavior of her players uppermost in her mind and on her tongue.
What do you think Effa would have said upon hearing that she was going to be the first — and as yet, only — woman inducted into the Hall of Fame?
I imagine she would have been pleased. Who wouldn’t? But I also think she would have protested that the Hall inducted the wrong Manley; that the honor should have gone to Abe. She always said Abe knew more about baseball than she did, and that she was just helping him out. For sure though, she would have pasted newspaper clippings covering her induction into her scrapbook.
Thanks so much, Bob, for taking the time to talk about your book.
Bob Luke and I will be on hand to celebrate Effa Manley Day with the Newark Bears on Saturday, May 28 (Memorial Day weekend) at their great ballpark. It’ll be an awesome night–we’ll honor Effa at the start of the game, and celebrate with fireworks afterward. The ballpark affords fantastic views of the NYC skyline, and it’s going to be a very fun, very memorable evening. We hope to see you there!
Hop on over to this blog http://kidlitwhm.blogspot.com/2011/03/something-that-is-meaningful-telling.html for my guest post about writing Effa Manley’s story.
Peter Gammons wrote an excellent piece (what a surprise) in the current issue of the Baseball Hall of Fame’s magazine, Memories and Dreams, in which he talks about what spring training used to be. He recalled a tennis match between Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski. The accessibility of all the players. And the excitement of a great new player in the Yankees club, a kid he thought the Yankees should play at shortstop … Mariano Rivera.
That Mo would go on to greatness of a wholly other kind is my favorite kind of baseball story.
Last year’s big stories were about pitchers and the kids, the rookies. I love me a good rookie.
Did I digress?
Jason Heyward. Stephen Strasburg. I couldn’t get enough of those guys (until Strasburg—surprise, surprise—blew out his arm). How about Buster Posey’s year, all the way through a World Series win? Austin Jackson, whom I’d seen play the game of his life when on the . I love watching these beginnings, beginnings with great promise.
Who will it be this year? Is anyone else wondering what kind of year Aroldis Chapman will have? It looks like Jesus Montero might have more playing time than anyone thought, thanks to Cervelli’s broken foot. That’s the part I always forget—the surprise turns—the injuries that bring a rookie up before anyone thought he’d be ready. And the roles those rookies sometimes play.
The people I hear about before the season are not always the ones who end up shining. I wonder what this year’s best stories will be.
I am a mostly logical person. But I would never be so crazy as to discount the power of jinx in sport. My husband, a wholly logical person, cannot understand this. Which merely shows that he doesn’t understand baseball the way I do. (As a Red Sox fan he should know better.)
It is not something I find simple to explain; it’s just something I understand on a very basic level.
There are others who get it. Mike Greenberg, for example. I delighted in a long on-air discussion about why his father had to fly across the country to ensure the Jets wouldn’t lose an important postseason game last year. I totally get that.
While reading Steve Almond’s book, (Not that You Asked), I came across evidence that he gets it, too. And then some.
“The true fan, in other words, does not merely sit back and receive the game. He or she is working every moment, crafting fantasies, second-guessing, storing up regrets, tempering the unwanted equity of pain. This is the essential experience, the reward and punishment rolled into one, the sad duty of our sad disease.”
This book, recommended to me by Chris Barton, by the way, rocks.
From Little League “This was one of the few pleasures granted the Little League coach: the right to publicly mock children under the guise of nurturing them,” to Jose Canseco, “He turned away from his image with reluctance, plainly heartbroken that, in the real world, there was only one of him,” to the role Lord God of Sport played in Dennis Eckersley’s ill-fated pitch to Kirk Gibson, “How else does the game’s best reliever give up a homer to a man who was essentially crippled?” is SPOT ON.
The book has some brilliant insights about being a writer, too. Like this one, “To a greater extent than anyone likes to admit, writers evolve simply because they tire of their own mistakes.”
There’s logic in that, no?
One of my favorite things about being a grown up is the wisdom. I finally have some! Or maybe it’s just insight.
One thing I know about myself: I have a tendency to fall apart just as I’m approaching the end of a particularly harrowing time. I hold it together beautifully for so long, but when we approach, say, the 95-percent-of-the-way there line: breakdown.
First such remembered incident: My parents, who raised three daughters and never got away from us for long, felt they had an opportunity. When I was nine, my two older sisters were in sleep-away camp. I was attending Shibley Day Camp, as was my cousin. My parents planned a two-week vacation to Portugal, leaving me in the care of my Aunt Marlene.
I never handled separation from my mother well. But I was heroic for one week and six days. The night before they were returning, I lost it in the most epic way imaginable. I was lost in a solid night of howling, way beyond a place where I could accept my aunt’s offered comfort.
“But you made it all this time!” she kept repeating. “You’ve been so good.”
It’s that last bit that kills me. It started then. It continues now.
Now, when we’re THIS CLOSE to baseball.
I’m not sure I’m going to make it.