Book: Queen of the Negro Leagues

Queen of the Negro LeaguesQueen of the Negro Leagues: Effa Manley and the Newark Eagles
James Overmyer
1998

This is, ostensibly, a biography of Mrs Effa Manley, co-owner of the Newark Eagles (a Negro National League baseball team) and the first woman to ever be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame (in February 2006). It tells about how she and her husband, Abe Manley, created and managed the Newark Eagles. The book was written before Effa was inducted into the Hall of Fame, but the reasons for her being worthy of the honour are clearly laid out. She not only managed one of the best teams in the league, but she also fought for integration in professional baseball, fair treatment of both the players and the owners, and more respect for black Americans in general. One of her particularly impressive fights was for the Negro League teams to be fairly compensated (as white minor league teams were) when the major leagues hired one of their players. This ensured that the teams could try and find more players to replace the lost talent, while also showing the players themselves that they were worth a lot to both the team they were leaving and the team they were going to join. Effa was a woman in a man’s game, but she played the game as good as any of them (and better than most).

The biggest problem that I had with this book was it’s lack of organization. Overmyer is a good writer, but even good writing gets old after twelve or so pages of information that is only vaguely on topic. The book is so badly organized that I really have trouble calling it a biography. It doesn’t do the things one usually expects from a good biography. Almost nothing is said about Effa’s life before and after the Eagles, and even less about her life outside of baseball even while the Eagles were playing. In fact, so much time is spent focused on the Eagles themselves and the antics of the other Negro League owners that it is really more about them than about Effa herself. It is clear that she presented a unique challenge to the owners and a distinct advantage in some ways to her team, but what she actually wanted out of the whole thing is never entirely clear. The book states that she had two marriages besides Abe, but virtually nothing is said about them (the author never even explicitly states that she divorced them both, just that she was single shortly after marrying the first and that she got sick of the third fairly quickly). Virtually no details are given about Effa’s life at all. It’s very frustrating.

The writing, as I said, is excellent. Overmyer’s descriptions of action – particular plays and bits of games – are amazing. Unfortunately, that isn’t the focus of the book. Most of the book is discussing the internal politics of Negro League baseball, which is very light on action. Several times I wondered why Overmyer had wanted to write this book in the first place. It is clear that he cares very much about this part of baseball history (which is largely forgotten in many ways), but why try to write a biography? This book would have been much better as a piece on the league in general or simply focusing on the Eagles. Trying to make either of those into a biography clearly didn’t quite work.

I loved hearing about this amazing woman’s life, but this wasn’t the book to tell me about her. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, it’s the only book on the subject. Perhaps now that Effa Manley has been formally recognized by the Hall of Fame someone will undertake to write about her again, but as of now I know of no such project. If you really want to know about Effa, the book might be worth plodding through, but I don’t recommend it. Most of the information about her can be found on the internet (which shows how little there really was). This book is interesting, but not worth the frustration.

- Publisher’s Description
- National Baseball Hall of Fame: Effa Manley
- Book Blog: First Impressions
- Book Blog: Scattered
- Book Blog: Organization
- Book Blog: Community
- Book Blog: Business
- Book Blog: Money
- Book Blog: Jumping
- Book Blog: World War II
- Book Blog: Descriptions
- Book Blog: Payment
- Book Blog: Suppositions
- Book Blog: Owners
- Book Blog: Final Thoughts
- Buy it from Amazon

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