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!