When I look back at what I had to go through in black baseball, I can only marvel at the many black players who stuck it out for years in the Jim Crow leagues because they had nowhere else to go.
Dan McClellan became the first black pitcher to throw a perfect game in professional baseball on July 9, 1903. The Cuban X-Giant hurler accomplished this feat in a Tri-State League contest against York, Pennsylvania.
This piece was published in 1996 in Avalanche, a collection of poetry by Quincy Troupe. It is not only a piece from a son to his father, but also a great tribute to the Negro Leagues.
for Quincy T. Trouppe Sr.
father, it was an honor to be there, in the dugout
with you, the glory of great black men swinging their lives
as bats, at tiny white balls
burning in at unbelievable speeds, riding up & in & out
a curve breaking down wicked, like a ball falling off a table
moving away, snaking down, screwing its stitched magic
into chitlin circuit air, its comma seams spinning
toward breakdown, dipping, like a hipster
bebopping a knee-dip stride, in the charlie parker forties
wrist curling, like a swan’s neck
behind a slick black back
cupping an invisible ball of dreams
& you there, father, regal, as an african, obeah man
sculpted out of wood, from a sacred tree, of no name, no place, origin
thick branches branching down, into cherokee & someplace else lost
way back in africa, the sap running dry
crossing from north carolina into georgia, inside grandmother mary’s
womb, where your mother had you in the violence of that red soil
ink blotter news, gone now, into blood graves
of american blues, sponging rococo
truth long gone as dinosaurs
the agent-oranged landscape of former names
absent of african polysyllables, dry husk, consonants there
now, in their place, names, flat, as polluted rivers
& that guitar string smile always snaking across
some virulent, american, redneck’s face
scorching, like atomic heat, mushrooming over nagasaki
& hiroshima, the fever blistered shadows of it all
inked, as etchings, into sizzled concrete
but you, there, father, through it all, a yardbird solo
riffing on bat & ball glory, breaking down the fabricated myths
of white major league legends, of who was better than who
beating them at their own crap
game, with killer bats, as bud powell swung his silence into beauty
of a josh gibson home run, skittering across piano keys of bleachers
shattering all manufactured legends up there in lights
struck out white knights, on the risky edge of amazement
awe, the miraculous truth sluicing through
steeped & disguised in the blues
confluencing, like the point at the cross
when a fastball hides itself up in a slider, curve
breaking down & away in a wicked, sly grin
curved & posed as an ass-scratching uncle tom, who
like old sachel paige delivering his famed hesitation pitch
before coming back with a hard, high, fast one, is slicker
sliding, & quicker than a professional hitman—
the deadliness of it all, the sudden strike
like that of the “brown bomber’s” crossing right
of sugar ray robinson’s, lightning, cobra bite
& you, there, father, through it all, catching rhythms
of chono pozo balls, drumming, like conga beats into your catcher’s mitt
hard & fast as “cool papa” bell jumping into bed
before the lights went out
of the old, negro baseball league, a promise, you were
father, a harbinger, of shock waves, soon come
Inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006, Effa Louise Manley co-owned the Newark Eagles baseball franchise in the Negro leagues (alongside her husband, Abe Manley) from 1935 to 1946. After her husband’s death, she then became sole owner of the team through 1948. She was also a noted activist, active in the Civil Rights Movement and serving as treasurer of the Newark chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Effa Manley was born on March 27, 1897 in Philadelphia (some sources cite her birth year as 1900). Her actual racial background also remains a mystery — some speculate that she was of mixed race while others believe she was a white woman who could pass as black. Manley herself seemed to enjoy the confusion generated by her ethnic background. She graduated from Penn Central High School in 1916, completing vocational training in cooking, oral expression, and sewing. Following high school, she moved to New York City.
In New York, Manley could often be found at Yankee Stadium, taking in ballgames. “Babe Ruth made a baseball fan of me,” Manley reportedly said. “I used to go to Yankee Stadium just to see him come to bat.” At a World Series game in 1932, Manley met her future husband, Abe. The couple married in 1935, and he involved her in the operation of his own club, the Newark Eagles in New Jersey.
As co-owner of the Eagles, Manley didn’t fit into the traditional 1930s homemaker mold for women. She managed day-to-day business operations for the team, handled contracts and travel schedules, and she proved particularly talented at marketing. She developed a number of promotions that advanced the Civil Rights Movement as well as a variety of other causes and benefits. Under Manley’s leadership, the Eagles invited soldiers during World War II to Eagles games for free. They also hosted benefits for various causes, including the Harlem Fight for Freedom Committee and the Newark Community Hospital. Within the Negro Leagues, Manley worked to improve conditions for players in the entire league. She advocated for better scheduling, better pay, and better accommodations. Under Manley, the Newark Eagles traveled in an air-conditioned bus, a rare luxury in the Negro Leagues.
During Manley’s time with the team, the Eagles won the Negro League World Series in 1946. Among the Eagles players during Manley’s ownership were future MLB stars such as Larry Doby, Monte Irvin, and Don Newcombe.
Following integration of Major League Baseball, attendance at Eagles games plummeted, from 120,000 in 1946 to 57,000 in 1948. Like many other Negro League teams, Newark found itself unable to continue generating profits. Even after selling the club to a group of investors in 1948, Manley continued to stay involved in baseball. She co-authored a book on black baseball with Leon Hardwick, and she donated a scrapbook of her years with Newark to the Baseball Hall of Fame. She also wrote letters lobbying for Negro leaguers to be admitted into Cooperstown.
Effa Manley died of a heart attack on April 16, 1981. She was buried in Culver City at the Holy Cross Cemetery. She was the first woman inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Before Jackie Robinson made his mark by breaking Major League Baseball’s color barrier, he was a four-sport star at UCLA, playing baseball, football, basketball, and running track. He remains the only four-letter athlete in the school’s history. In his final year playing football for the school, Robinson led the Bruins in rushing (383 yards), passing (444 yards), total offense (827 yards), scoring (36 points), and punt return average (21 yards). You can see a bit of footage from Robinson’s football days at UCLA here:
Robinson even went on to play a bit of semi-pro football. In September 1941, he moved to Honolulu, Hawaii, where he played football for the semi-professional Honolulu Bears for $100 a game. His career with the Bears was cut short, however, when Robinson was drafted into the Army during World War II.
After World War II, Robinson briefly returned to football with the Los Angeles Bulldogs. He then was offered a job as athletic director at Samuel Houston College in Austin, and as part of that role, he coached the basketball team for the 1944-1945 season.
It was in early 1945 that the Kansas City Monarchs offered Jackie a place on their team in the Negro Leagues. Robinson then signed with the minor league Montreal Royals following the 1945 season.
The rest, as we know, is history.
Happy Jackie Robinson Day!
I spent much of the last week visiting an old friend who now lives in New York state. Though I was only there for a few days, we managed to cram a lot into our limited time together. We spent a full day in Manhattan — my first time ever in New York City. Another day, we went on a five-mile hike up a mountain in the Hudson River Valley. I also insisted, so long as I was making the trip halfway across the country, that we had to visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
The day we reserved for visiting the Hall of Fame came the day after our NYC day, and we didn’t get to bed until about 2:00 a.m. that night before. Cooperstown is about a three-hour drive from my friend’s home, and as late as we were out the previous night, there was no way we were going to be on the road by 6:00 am to be there in time for the 9:00 open time. Instead we pulled into town a bit after noon, and we stopped for sandwiches and coffee at a nice little café called Stagecoach Coffee (which I highly recommend, by the way, if you’re ever in Cooperstown).
We finished our lunch and arrived at the Hall of Fame around 1:00, leaving us about four hours to explore before closing time. There ended up being a couple of exhibits we didn’t get to see (pro tip: don’t go out the night before so you can get there earlier than we did), but we did see most of it, and I took an insane number of pictures in the process. For sanity’s sake, I’ll just post a few of the highlights here, but if you are somehow just morbidly curious, I’ve created a public album including all my photos here.
Here’s a good, and important, infographic from the Huffington Post that takes a look at the racial makeup of Major League Baseball. Jackie Robinson may have broken the color barrier in 1947, but as the graphic points out, that didn’t change the economic barriers to playing baseball. And, let’s be honest, this is an expensive sport. On the other hand, Robinson’s debut into the majors did also open the doors for Latinos in the MLB, and given the talent it has introduced, this is definitely a great thing.