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Baseball's Leading Lady: Effa Manley and the Rise and Fall of the Negro Leagues

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For fans of Hidden Figures and Steve Sheinkin's Undefeated, this is the powerful true story of Effa Manley, the first and only woman in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Before Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball's color barrier in 1947, Negro Leagues Baseball was the only game in town for black athletes. And those leagues owed their existence and success to savvy For fans of Hidden Figures and Steve Sheinkin's Undefeated, this is the powerful true story of Effa Manley, the first and only woman in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Before Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball's color barrier in 1947, Negro Leagues Baseball was the only game in town for black athletes. And those leagues owed their existence and success to savvy businesspeople like Effa Manley, the black female co-owner of the Newark Eagles. Effa was the team's business manager, leading her team to win the Negro World Series in 1946. But this victory was bittersweet: Integration was on its way, and the demise of the Negro Leagues would soon follow. In this riveting nonfiction account, author Andrea Williams weaves the parallel stories of the segregated leagues with the tale of an inspiring woman who was at the center of it all.


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For fans of Hidden Figures and Steve Sheinkin's Undefeated, this is the powerful true story of Effa Manley, the first and only woman in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Before Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball's color barrier in 1947, Negro Leagues Baseball was the only game in town for black athletes. And those leagues owed their existence and success to savvy For fans of Hidden Figures and Steve Sheinkin's Undefeated, this is the powerful true story of Effa Manley, the first and only woman in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Before Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball's color barrier in 1947, Negro Leagues Baseball was the only game in town for black athletes. And those leagues owed their existence and success to savvy businesspeople like Effa Manley, the black female co-owner of the Newark Eagles. Effa was the team's business manager, leading her team to win the Negro World Series in 1946. But this victory was bittersweet: Integration was on its way, and the demise of the Negro Leagues would soon follow. In this riveting nonfiction account, author Andrea Williams weaves the parallel stories of the segregated leagues with the tale of an inspiring woman who was at the center of it all.

30 review for Baseball's Leading Lady: Effa Manley and the Rise and Fall of the Negro Leagues

  1. 5 out of 5

    Bethany

    Baseball's Leading Lady is a fantastic nonfiction title, if not entirely what I was expecting. While the eponymous Effa Manly is a central thread in the narrative, this is less a biography than a broader exploration of the history of Black baseball, leading to the early stages of integration with the Major Leagues. It touches on structural racism and microaggressions, as well as outright discrimination and hate speech faced by the Black community during this time, and by people involved in Black Baseball's Leading Lady is a fantastic nonfiction title, if not entirely what I was expecting. While the eponymous Effa Manly is a central thread in the narrative, this is less a biography than a broader exploration of the history of Black baseball, leading to the early stages of integration with the Major Leagues. It touches on structural racism and microaggressions, as well as outright discrimination and hate speech faced by the Black community during this time, and by people involved in Black baseball specifically. We learn about the less glowing side of racial integration in baseball beginning with Jackie Robinson and how it hurt and took advantage of Black baseball leagues. It's a really interesting perspective to add to the typical narrative. And at the center of this is Effa Manley, an outspoken, unladylike advocate for the Black community writ large, and specifically for Black Baseball. She sounds like an amazing woman who wasn't afraid to make waves. This is written for a Middle Grade audience, but the language and concepts are pretty sophisticated and I would recommend this to anyone. I learned quite a bit. Thank you to Macmillan Kids for sending a copy for review. All opinions are my own.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kellyanne

    Loved this. It provides a great history of the Negro Leagues. My one issue is that Effa felt like an ancillary person in her own story.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Nikki

    It's everything I love in a non-fiction. Underdogs, women breaking the glass ceiling and, shockingly, lesser known sports history. This was beautifully written and entirely engaging. It covers the history of Black baseball; the struggles, the triumphs, and Effa Manley's important role in it all. I highly recommend this book. It was a terrific read and incredibly informational. It's everything I love in a non-fiction. Underdogs, women breaking the glass ceiling and, shockingly, lesser known sports history. This was beautifully written and entirely engaging. It covers the history of Black baseball; the struggles, the triumphs, and Effa Manley's important role in it all. I highly recommend this book. It was a terrific read and incredibly informational.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Allison McCague

    This book is essential reading for any baseball fan. I learned so, so much from it.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Ms. Yingling

    E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus I was expecting a biography of Effa Manley, but this turned out to be one of the better discussions about the Negro Leagues and Black baseball players that I've seen. SO MUCH information on so many different topics, but also beautifully arranged with Manley's life as a framework. There were a decent number of black and white illustrations (since this deals with the 1850s to the 1950s, there was little else available), and the wide range of information makes this a E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus I was expecting a biography of Effa Manley, but this turned out to be one of the better discussions about the Negro Leagues and Black baseball players that I've seen. SO MUCH information on so many different topics, but also beautifully arranged with Manley's life as a framework. There were a decent number of black and white illustrations (since this deals with the 1850s to the 1950s, there was little else available), and the wide range of information makes this a great starting point for students who are looking for different people or events for history day projects. Jackie Robinson is a fantastic historical figure for so many reasons, but there are also hundreds of books about him. I would love to see some of the other Black players highlighted, especially those from the 1800s. I'm also a little fascinated (and yet repulsed) by Branch Rickey and would love to see more about him. Definitely purchasing, and still hoping that the #WNDB movement and the current sociopolitical climate will finally start to get more biographies about previously unheralded Black figures.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sugarpuss O'Shea

    My first love has always been baseball. It's a sport that epitomizes how one person can make a difference: on offense, you're 1 player against 9; on defense, your teammates cannot help you -- if the ball is hit to you, only you can make the play. It's an individualistic endeavor encapsulated in a team game, and I absolutely love it. I was first introduced to Effa when I visited the Negro League Museum in Kansas City back in 2005. I wished I had paid more attention to her story, but it's hard for My first love has always been baseball. It's a sport that epitomizes how one person can make a difference: on offense, you're 1 player against 9; on defense, your teammates cannot help you -- if the ball is hit to you, only you can make the play. It's an individualistic endeavor encapsulated in a team game, and I absolutely love it. I was first introduced to Effa when I visited the Negro League Museum in Kansas City back in 2005. I wished I had paid more attention to her story, but it's hard for someone like her to stand out in a museum filled with so many trailblazing people. Thankfully, Andrea Williams wrote this book. While I learned new things about the game I love, this book is so much more than a history of baseball. It's a story of America, both good & bad. The good: once baseball consented to their so-called "gentleman's agreement," Blacks created a new system for themselves. While not perfect, Black men not only got to play the game they loved, but the ownership & management of the teams were Black too -- something that's severely lacking in the game today. Then there's the bad. Branch Rickey has always been heralded as this benevolent figure in baseball, when in reality he is nothing more than a thief out for his own gain. I'm ashamed this hasn't dawned on me before. All in all, this is a fantastic book that I cannot say enough about. I am very grateful for Ms Williams for shining the spotlight on Effa Manley. She never did belong in the shadows.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Hoover Public Library Kids and Teens

    This true story of Effa Manley, the first and only woman inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, also reveals the intersection of business, sports, and race in early 20th century America.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Brit

    3.5 stars. Lots of good information, but the title is complete misnomer. Many chapters contain nothing more than a passing reference to the title subject.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Carin

    Aside from the special exhibit on the women who played during the period made famous by the movie A League of Their Own, Effa Manley is the only woman in the Baseball Hall of Fame in New York. She (and her husband, but she was the driving force), bought and owned a couple of Negro League baseball teams during the heyday of the Negro Leagues, and up through the end of their existence. Most of the time she owned the Newark Eagles, moving from New York to New Jersey to manage them. Most of the Negr Aside from the special exhibit on the women who played during the period made famous by the movie A League of Their Own, Effa Manley is the only woman in the Baseball Hall of Fame in New York. She (and her husband, but she was the driving force), bought and owned a couple of Negro League baseball teams during the heyday of the Negro Leagues, and up through the end of their existence. Most of the time she owned the Newark Eagles, moving from New York to New Jersey to manage them. Most of the Negro League teams at the time only used verbal contracts (which, to be clear, are real and enforceable contracts) which the white baseball teams knew, used themselves occasionally, and flagrantly violated to steal the stunning players that came to their attention after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. Both before that and afterwards, the Negro League teams tried various arrangements to make their teams profitable and to be able to play white teams and stay viable. They didn't work. In the end, Major League Baseball's white teams drained their best talent, while still refusing to play them in anything but exhibition games, and the League finally folded. But leading up to that time, Mrs. Manley was a force both working to keep the League afloat and to make her team a winning one. This is a very cool introduction both to the Negro League as a whole, and to a woman who loved baseball and wanted to be a part of it. Great for kids even remotely interested in the sport, but also for kids who like American history and pop culture and who are interested in race relations and the history there.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Lane

    This book is as interesting as it is special. I went into this book expecting a biography of the phenom Effa Manley, a female powerhouse in American baseball and especially in the Negro Leagues, where she found and fostered some of the best Black players of the generation. But what I found was not only insight into Effa, but a nuanced and wide view of the rise of baseball, the issues that plagued not only the sport but American society, and the ways in which Black Americans made their place in s This book is as interesting as it is special. I went into this book expecting a biography of the phenom Effa Manley, a female powerhouse in American baseball and especially in the Negro Leagues, where she found and fostered some of the best Black players of the generation. But what I found was not only insight into Effa, but a nuanced and wide view of the rise of baseball, the issues that plagued not only the sport but American society, and the ways in which Black Americans made their place in spaces that fought to deny them. Every page is filled with history I had never learned, from the rise of Jackie Robinson, to Effa Manley's boycotting efforts, to the messy ways in which white baseball was integrated. Not only does this book teach, but it inspires--inspires you to think critically and inspires you to dig deeper, introducing a myriad of topics related to Effa, baseball, and integration that could keep you busy and excited by Black history for decades! The history of Black baseball provides context to Effa's life and the expediency and passion with which she managed her team and her players. While I would have loved to learn more about Effa's introduction to baseball or what she did after Black baseball had met its demise, I was thoroughly excited by what this book does provide. And like all good nonfiction, the questions it left me with inspired me to dig deeper on my own. But not only is this an expansive nonfiction, Williams writes with poignancy and charm. From the opening scene, the atmospheric tone assures you that not only are you in for good history, but also a good book. From the scenic descriptions down to the very last snapshot of Ms. Manley's mink cape, this book draws a vivid picture. Black history nonfiction for young children and teens is on the rise and I think this book has solidified its place in the field. Thank you to Netgalley and the author for providing a free advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Colin Cox

    In December 2020, Major League Baseball made a decision that, far from salvaging 2020, rendered the year a little less ruinous: they classified seven "Negro League Baseball" teams as official major league teams. According to CBS's R. J. Anderson, this decision validates the statistics (batting and pitching stastics or "counting stats" have historically measured a player's worth, value, and prestige) of 3,400 players from 1920-1948. Before Jackie Robinson broke the color line in 1947, baseball wa In December 2020, Major League Baseball made a decision that, far from salvaging 2020, rendered the year a little less ruinous: they classified seven "Negro League Baseball" teams as official major league teams. According to CBS's R. J. Anderson, this decision validates the statistics (batting and pitching stastics or "counting stats" have historically measured a player's worth, value, and prestige) of 3,400 players from 1920-1948. Before Jackie Robinson broke the color line in 1947, baseball was segregated by race, like so much of American society. However, in baseball's early days, several Black ballplayers shared the field with White ballplayers, but not without consternation (i.e., bigotry and racism) from Cap Anson, arguably one of his generation's best players. Thanks in part to Anson's protestations (i.e., bigotry and racism), the International League decided in 1887 not to extend contracts to any Black players. As Andrea Williams writes in her excellent book on Negro League team owner Effa Manley, "Anson's stance became the crux of a so-called gentleman's agreement—so-called not because there was anything 'gentlemanly' about it, but because it was never decreed by written rule. Yet even as the agreement remained unwritten, it became all-powerful, the hidden force that would guide the evolution of professional baseball for generations to come" (31). As Williams suggests, this "all-powerful" and "hidden force" created the conditions for owners like Manley to build "a vehicle to transport the Black community to a position of equality in American society, to provide jobs and financial stability where they were sorely lacking, and to give Black boys and girls regular opportunities to witness victory when so much of their lives was mired in defeat" (5-6). Williams's Baseball's Leading Lady is a wonderful primer for anyone interested in learning more about what the Negro Leagues were and how they converged with more significant questions about race, racism, sexism, workers rights, and equality in the United States. As Williams suggests, the rise and fall of the Negro Leagues symbolize much of the Black experience in the United States: success was limited to few Black people, that success was fleeting and often precarious, and "success" under no circumstances meant equality of treatment or opportunity. Take, for example, Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey. Rickey is often lionized for "breaking baseball's color barrier" by signing Jackie Robinson in 1945. Williams complicates his legacy by detailing how Rickey's decision to sign Robinson and integrate baseball excluded Negro League team owners, both financially and structurally. Rickey declined to compensate the Kansas City Monarchs (Robinson's Negro League team) once he signed Robinson. While there are inherent ethical problems with treating players (which is to say, people) like commodities, compensating teams for players' services is a practice that occurs even today. The Korea Baseball Organization or KBO has a posting system that compensates KBO teams when players sign with Major League Baseball (MLB) teams. Even within the MLB, teams trade players for other players, and in some circumstances, receive compensation when a former player signs with a new team. But as Williams suggests, failing to compensate Negro League teams for their players once they signed with MLB teams ensured the eventual extinction of Negro League baseball. Williams writes, "Effa felt it would be in the best interest of the Negro Leagues, then, to form a partnership with Major League Baseball, to perhaps have Black teams become official farm clubs of the white ones. This plan would keep Black baseball in operation, and it would also support integration by providing a steady stream of Black talent for the Majors. But Major League Baseball didn't get behind Effa's suggestions. Instead, it left the Negro Leagues to fend for themselves" (194). Specifically, regarding Rickey, Williams writes, "Rickey clearly had plans for the integration of the Majors, but those plans did not include Effa or the other owners" (199). These poaching and predatory practices by MLB teams guaranteed that racial progress and equality would move as slowly as possible. When Jackie Robinson wore a Dodger uniform in 1947, it was a momentous step forward for not just Black ballplayers but all Black people in the United States. But as Williams writes, "the lens of integration became focused on opportunities for individual Black players, not for entire Black teams or leagues" (220). Therefore, "what was great for the Majors proved fatal for the Negro Leagues" (261). As Williams chronicles, Effa Manley's fight for Negro League baseball was a fight for racial equality, but it was also a fight against the racist, bigoted forces the operate in society today. For men like Branch Rickey, Black players were an opportunity for "Major League owners and executives [to] take what they wanted—the best Black athletes available—and leave behind what they didn't—the Black owners, executives, and coaches, and even the Black players who were past their playing prime or just not good enough to make the jump" (275). This is why Effa Manley's story matters; her story is a story of our present, not just our past.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Anika Orrock

    This is the Effa book we needed. Now is the time to learn about historical heroes like Effa Manley in the right way. There are a couple of biographies about Effa, but this is the first written by a woman––more importantly, because Effa dedicated herself to Civil Rights and building Black baseball and the Black community––it is written by a Black woman. For this reason, this is not the biography many will expect, and that is a good thing. Author Andrea Williams honors and abides by the historical This is the Effa book we needed. Now is the time to learn about historical heroes like Effa Manley in the right way. There are a couple of biographies about Effa, but this is the first written by a woman––more importantly, because Effa dedicated herself to Civil Rights and building Black baseball and the Black community––it is written by a Black woman. For this reason, this is not the biography many will expect, and that is a good thing. Author Andrea Williams honors and abides by the historical records available (Negro Leagues record keeping was not consistent); she does not speculate or inject opinion. She does, however, offer us the story of Effa Manley and the Negro Leagues from a valuable and important perspective we rarely get. It is the perspective––the untold side of the larger story––I strongly suspect Effa herself would have shared now if she could. This is why this book is valuable to young readers AND adults; the language and the story are compatible for young readers, but not catered to them. We often celebrate individual achievement and individual trailblazers in literature and beyond; when we dive into a biography, we expect to learn every personal detail about its subject. You will learn a lot about Effa Manley the woman in this book, but preconceived expectations won't likely be met; here's why you should let them go: Every marginalized community has its own internal divisions––different ideas of how to overcome adversity and achieve equality. The greatest successes and advancements of marginalized Americans has always come when there is a strong degree of unity. Black Americans have repeatedly been denied and stripped of opportunity at every turn. They have continued to create their own opportunities by thinking, organizing, working for and considering the health of their communities as a whole. This is not a traditional concept at the forefront of white American culture. To tell Effa's story comprehensively is to tell it wholly, to provide social, cultural, historical context and to offer the reader an understanding of what was happening in Effa's world and what she cared about. Effa Manley was ahead of her time in so many ways! We can't know just how smart and bold she was without understanding who and what she was working with. The author paints a historical portrait of the rise and fall of the Negro Leagues––the whys, whos and hows––so we can understand what Effa fought for and what she fought against. I learned through Williams' book that Effa always saw the bigger picture and took action. She continually fought to build something that would lift Black communities and Black people and foster the health of the WHOLE of baseball and Black baseball. In all her business dealings and negotiations, Effa Manley's primary concern and motivation was equity and fairness. Having learned this, I can't imagine her biography being written any other way. Andrea Williams does Effa Manley justice and provides a great service to anyone interested in history, women's history and baseball history by offering us this engaging perspective.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Beth Anne

    I received a free review copy from the publisher. A long time baseball fan and player, I’ve read a large number of baseball history books over the years. This book was incredibly well-researched, informative, shed light on parts of baseball history that have not often been told. I loved adding more depth to my Negro League understanding, and I appreciated how this story was told with obvious love of the game and the history surrounding it. Even as an avid baseball fan, there were some elements th I received a free review copy from the publisher. A long time baseball fan and player, I’ve read a large number of baseball history books over the years. This book was incredibly well-researched, informative, shed light on parts of baseball history that have not often been told. I loved adding more depth to my Negro League understanding, and I appreciated how this story was told with obvious love of the game and the history surrounding it. Even as an avid baseball fan, there were some elements that were a little dry for me at times. T never lasted long though, I just think for someone who is not as in to baseball history that may be a draw back of this book. I’m also a little unsure of the intended audience. The book is marketed as upper middle grade (ages 10-14) but I felt like it would have been most engaging and interesting for an older teen, high school age. This isn’t because of any content issues, more that this book is long (nearly 300 pages) and would make an excellent resource for someone wanting to dive deep into Black baseball history. I think some middle schoolers might be there, but more likely high schoolers.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Alexia

    I loved this book. This is a non-fiction middle grade book, but I think it's great for anyone interested in learning more about Black people you haven't heard about who made a great impact. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Some of my main highlights from this book: ⚾️ People were able to succeed partly because of colorism and light skinned privilege as they could pass as white and get into spaces that weren't accessible to darker Black people ⚾️ The historical context we got helped better understand how baseball was being I loved this book. This is a non-fiction middle grade book, but I think it's great for anyone interested in learning more about Black people you haven't heard about who made a great impact. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Some of my main highlights from this book: ⚾️ People were able to succeed partly because of colorism and light skinned privilege as they could pass as white and get into spaces that weren't accessible to darker Black people ⚾️ The historical context we got helped better understand how baseball was being affected by certain historical events ⚾️ Black players went to play in countries like the DR because they got paid more and weren't seen or treated as a minority. ⚾️ Really makes you think about the positives and negatives of integration in not just baseball but society ⚾️ Effa Manley was a force to be reckoned with ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ “Truly, if Effa’s story—of forging her path in a male-dominated industry while tirelessly advocating for both Black baseball and Black people—reveals nothing else, it teaches us this: We are more powerful than we know.” *Thank you to the publisher for sending me a copy! All opinions are my own*

  15. 5 out of 5

    Katelynne

    This is an excellent nonfiction title with plenty of rich detail. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting, with lots of Negro League history, but Effa Manley is the common threat tying it all together. I expected this to be a middle grade read but I do think it might be better for YA, or a child with lots of baseball (and perhaps historical) knowledge. As an adult who is a baseball fan and history geek, I had the context and loved this one.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jes Smith

    Wished there was more about the woman the book was billed to be about, but the history of the black baseball league and all the challenges they faxed to be included in a sport they were allowed to watch, but not play in.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    More about business and racism than baseball. Will be a good book to spark discussions. Author is a phenomenal presenter.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Leslie Heaphy

  19. 4 out of 5

    Evan F.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jenn Mellen

  21. 4 out of 5

    Kaia

  22. 4 out of 5

    Beth

  23. 5 out of 5

    Vernon Luckert

  24. 5 out of 5

    MayorEmma

  25. 4 out of 5

    Katie Brown

  26. 4 out of 5

    Alex

  27. 5 out of 5

    Mike Osterman

  28. 4 out of 5

    Gabriel Graña

  29. 4 out of 5

    Melinda

  30. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

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