Whether or not the weather in the New York area tells us otherwise as we look into the maw of yet another possible nor'easter, today marks the official start of Spring. It's Opening Day 2011 and many a baseball shall meet many a baseball bat today throughout the country with a resounding thwack. It's a sound that delights fans of all ages, and it's a sound that no doubt had the same effect on young Effa Manley during the 1932 World Series at Yankee Stadium. She witnessed the legendary Babe Ruth at bat that day and the Yankees took home the pennant.
Effa and her husband Abe started a Negro National League team called the Brooklyn Eagles in 1935 (later to become the Newark Eagles). She managed the team and advocated for the players - and civil rights in general - in every way she could. Her team won the 1946 Negro Leagues World Championship. In later years she lobbied the Baseball Hall of Fame to honor Negro League players which they eventually did. In 2006, 25 years after her death in 1981, Effa Manley herself was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame - the first woman ever to achieve that honor. Her Cooperstown plaque reads: A trailblazing owner and tireless crusader in the civil rights movement who earned the respect of her players and fellow general owners as business manager and co-owner of the Eagles, ensured team's financial success with creative promotions and advertising. Beloved by fans because she integrated her players into the community and fielded consistently competitive teams, highlighted by a 1946 Negro Leagues World Series Championship. Represented team at league meetings and established a precedent of Negro League Clubs receiving fair compensation for players signed to Major League contracts.
Audrey Vernick is the author of She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story, published by Harper Collins, which was recently named to the American Library Association's 2011 Amelia Bloomer Booklist. The book is targeted to ages 5 through 10 and beautifully illustrated by Don Tate. I asked her how she connected to Effa's incredible story. "I came across a mention of Effa Manley - a woman whose name I had never heard - in a news magazine my son brought home from school in 2006. As an avid baseball fan and a resident of New Jersey, I found it hard to believe that I'd never once stumbled upon this woman's story, as much of it takes place in Newark and it's a story any baseball fan would love," said Vernick.
"The more I researched her life, the more smitten I became with Effa Manley's moxie. In the 1930's and 1940's, as an African-American woman, she was a mover and shaker in business, and a crusader for civil rights. I don't know what drove her ceaseless pursuit of social justice, but she was a force unto herself. So many of us have a general uneasiness with the state of society. We sign petitions. We get angry and speak loudly at parties about issues we feel strongly about. But Effa Manley got it done, and that made a big impression on me."
While still in research mode, Vernick went to the A. Bartlett Giamatti Research Center at Cooperstown's Baseball Hall of Fame. She reviewed microfiche of Manley's scrapbook, looked at articles from the time, viewed photos. "I donned the white gloves of an archivist and paged through those files with a ridiculous smile on my face the entire time. And then I began to write."
"Writing any biography involves difficult decisions about what to include and what to leave out, but writing a 32-page picture-book biography is a unique challenge. It's an awesome responsibility, deciding how readers will get to know a subject, and I felt the weight of that responsibility at every juncture. It hurt to cut away certain scenes, but a picture book for an elementary audience simply cannot be too long." There were issues that weren't appropriate, also, for the intended readers. One of Effa's most talked-about promotions was an Anti-Lynching Day held at Newark's Ruppert Stadium. Lynching wasn't a subject Vernick wanted to bring up and have to explain in a book for such a young audience in the space allotted.
Originally from Queens, Vernick herself went to Mets games with her father as a child, "but somewhere along the line my allegiance shifted north to the Bronx," she grins. Her son is a high school baseball player and has been playing since he was two. Her husband played ball in high school and college and founded a recreational baseball league in their New Jersey town. Her father played baseball in the army. "So it's in the blood, in the family...I'm a hardcore baseball fan."
As part of Youth Baseball Week, Vernick will give a talk about Effa Manley at the Baseball Hall of Fame on April 21 from 11am to noon. She regularly travels to libraries and schools to speak to kids about Effa's enormous legacy. A brilliant discussion guide was also created for the book so teachers can easily incorporate it into their curriculum.
On May 28, Riverfront Stadium in Newark will host Effa Manley Day with the Newark Bears. Vernick, along with Bob Luke (author of recent Manley biography The Most Famous Woman in Baseball) will have a meet and greet before the game. The team's manager, former Yankee Tim Raines will read She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story to kids in the blue room. Gates open and festivities begin at 5:30pm at the stadium, which is directly across the street from the Newark Broad Street train station. Effa's niece, Connie Brooks, will throw out the first pitch.
And when the bat hits the ball that day, wherever she is, no doubt Effa Manley will be smiling.
For more about Effa Manley visit Audrey Vernick's blog
View a trailer for the book
For more about Audrey Vernick visit her website