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Negro Leaguers, first woman enter Hall

Negro Leaguers, first woman in HOF

TAMPA -- Effa Manley's life was filled with trailblazing moments, and in death, Manley continued her pioneer's life on Monday.

Manley, a white woman who owned one of the most successful franchises in the Negro Leagues, became the first woman to earn induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

She joined 16 others who passed the scrutiny of 12 historians and Negro League experts whom Hall officials commissioned to review the credentials of players and officials of "black baseball."

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The other 16 inductees were: Ray Brown, Willard Brown, Andy Cooper, Biz Mackey, Mule Suttles, Cristobal Torriente, Jud Wilson, Frank Grant, Pete Hill, Jose Mendez, Louis Santop, Ben Taylor, Alex Pompez, Cum Posey and J.L. Wilkinson.

Even with their sterling credentials, none of them stood as tall as Manley did in terms of what her induction means to baseball. She was the lone queen in a world that kings ruled with an often iron fist.

"We really did not focus on the fact that she was a woman," said Raymond Doswell, one of the voters and curator of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. "The focus was truly on her contribution to the Newark Eagles and the Negro Leagues.

"That fact that she was a woman ended up being kind of just, 'Oh, she was a woman.'"

Others on the panel agreed.

"To say that nobody considered that she was a woman would probably be wrong," said Leslie Heaphy, a professor at Kent State and a voter. "To say that everybody considered that, I'm probably not sure I can say that.

"Listening to the general contribution around her, it definitely was mentioned. How much weight different people put on that, I really, honestly could not say."

What Heaphy could say with certainty was that Manley, living in a black world, earned her selection to Cooperstown for one reason: her contributions to baseball.

"I guess you could say she's the 'blackest' white woman in the world," said Larry Lester, a voter and one of the leading Negro League researchers in America. "She carried herself as a black woman."

Manley's reign over the Eagles, whom her husband Abe bought in 1937, was the stuff of legend. She served as the matriarch of a storied franchise that produced some of the greatest ballplayers in the game.

Manley was one of four owners who picked up the nine votes needed for induction. Each of the others -- Posey, Wilkinson and Pompez -- also played a significant role in the growth of the game. They steered black baseball through a glory period in its history.

Now, their achievements have won them a plaque in Cooperstown, where they will be inducted on July 30 along with the players and managers and closer Bruce Sutter, whom the baseball writers selected earlier this year.

As significant as Sutter's selection to the Hall is to the game, it can't compare in a broad sense with the groundbreaking process that led to the Hall's decision to revisit the careers of players and executives from the Negro Leagues and pre-Negro Leagues.

The announcement here on Monday culminated a five-year process that a $250,000 grant from Major League Baseball helped jump-start. The money was used to fill in the gaps that existed in black baseball.

2006 Negro Leagues
Election Results
 Inductee
 Ray Brown
 Willard Brown
 Andy Cooper
 Biz Mackey
 Mule Suttles
 Cristobal Torriente
 Jud Wilson
 Frank Grant
 Pete Hill
 José Méndez
 Louis Santop
 Ben Taylor
 Effa Manley
 Alex Pompez
 Cum Posey
 J.L. Wilkinson
 Sol White

"We knew that more research had to be done -- that a more complete picture had to be painted on the role of African-Americans in the history of baseball," said Jane Forbes Clark, chairman of the Hall of Fame.

The Hall turned to a respected group of researchers, who came up with a list of 39 candidates, and a smaller group, with help from Hall of Famer Frank Robinson and former commissioner Fay Vincent. The group met behind closed doors the last two days, and picked its list of inductees.

Each candidate got at least nine of the 12 votes, though the panelists declined to say how many votes each candidate received, Clark said. Nor did they talk in specifics about their frank discussions.

The panel chose to celebrate the selection, not to dissect the process.

"I consider this a great honor and an historic moment in the history of the Baseball Hall of Fame," said Vincent, the non-voting chairman of the 12-member panel. "I think it's important to say, at the outset, what a great sadness there is that we didn't do this 30 or 40 years ago.

"But the whole history of this issue of race in our society is a topic that involves very bad timing."

Vincent lamented the fact that none of the 17 inductees was alive to bask in the moment.

"I'm sorry that we're late," he said. "But I'm proud that we're doing it."

Of the 39 candidates on the final ballot, only Buck O'Neil and Minnie Minoso were alive. Both men, however, were considered long shots heading into the voting.

Despite being excluded, Minoso has no fear of receiving a lack of recognition or appreciation.

"I know that baseball fans have me in their own Hall of Fame -- the one in their hearts," Minoso said in a statement. "That matters more to me than any official recognition. If it's meant to be, it's meant to be, and I am truly honored to be considered. I've given my life to baseball, and the game has given me so much. That's what matters the most to me."

But Dale Petroskey, president of the Hall, did not rule out a re-examination of black baseball, particularly as more research comes to light.

"The door is always open perhaps to further consideration," Petroskey said.

With the latest inductees, the Hall of Fame has 35 players and executives from the Negro Leagues in its shrine. All of the new inductees displayed, Vincent said, exceptional achievement over a long period of time.

"I think it's been an open and inclusive process," Vincent said. "I don't think any of my fellow committee members would dissent from that whatsoever. I think we gave each candidate a fair hearing.

"I think the results will speak for themselves."

Justice B. Hill is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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