Karl Lindholm: A new day for women in baseball

EFFA MANLEY, PRESIDENT of the Newark Eagles in the Negro American League in the 1930s and ’40s, was part of a “men’s club” in the world of professional sports. Here she is seen seated between Negro league star Josh Gibson (right) and Gus Greenlee (left), powerful owner of the Pittsburgh Crawfords. Photo Credit NoirTech Research Inc.

The first in a series.

This has been a good year for women in baseball.

That’s a sentence that could not have been written before this year. This year is different and may mark a turning point in women’s participation in the Grand Old Game.

The hiring of Kim Ng (pronounced Ang) as the general manager of the Miami Marlins is a big deal and really does shatter a glass ceiling: She is the first woman in the long history of the game to serve in the crucial role of GM.

Most Major League Baseball teams today have a woman, or two, in senior positions, but on the business side, in marketing, community relations, communications, legal affairs, and so on. The general manager is the top baseball position on a club, the Boss; all aspects of what happens on the field is the GM’s responsibility.

The general manager determines what assets (players!) the field manager has to deploy — acquiring and releasing players, promoting them from and demoting them to minor league affiliates. He, now she, works closely with the field manager on both the broad and immediate team strategy.

Think of Theo Epstein who guaranteed himself entry into Baseball’s Hall of Fame as the GM of first the Red Sox World Series champions in 2004, ending the Curse of the Bambino after 86 years, and then doing the same for the Chicago Cubs in 2016, ending their drought after 108 years.

Or Brian Cashman who has been the Yankees GM for 24 years and has led the Bronx Bombers to their many successes in that time, alas often at the expense of the Red Sox.

Kim Ng, 52, is certainly qualified for this historic role. She has worked in the Major Leagues for over 30 years. She grew up in the New York area as a Yankee fan and started out as an intern in 1990 with the White Sox, after graduating from the University of Chicago. In college, she was captain of the softball team and wrote her senior thesis on Title IX, the groundbreaking federal anti-discrimination legislation (1972) that made possible the enormous advances in women’s sports.

In 1998, at age 29, she was hired by the Yankees as an assistant GM (to Cashman) when Joe Torre was the manager. She went from there to the same job with the Dodgers in 2001. From 2011 till her Marlins appointment last November, she was the senior VP for baseball operations at the MLB central office where she reported to . . .  Joe Torre.

Yankee great Derek Jeter is the CEO and part owner of the Marlins and is responsible for the Kim Ng hire. They have known one another for 22 years. The Marlins manager is Don Mattingly, a Yankees coach when Kim was there. It’s a veritable Yankees Old Home Week in Miami.

The Marlins made the post-season last year for the first time in 17 years. They have some terrific young players. It could be a fun summer in Miami. 

It remains to be seen if this truly opens the door to women in leadership positions on the baseball side. If so, next in line could be the Red Sox assistant GM Raquel Ferreira. She has been with the team in a variety of roles since 1999.

Before Ng was hired, Ferreira was the highest-ranking woman in baseball operations in the game as the senior vice-president of major and minor league operations for the Red Sox. Like Ng, whose parents were born in China, Ferreira is the child of immigrants, in her case from Cape Verde.

Now let’s turn our attention to the quintessential trailblazer.

In the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown is one plaque for a woman, alongside 332 men so honored. That woman is Effa Manley.

Effa Manley was a powerful figure in baseball’s Negro leagues in the 1930s and ’40s, as the president of the Newark Eagles, one of the top clubs in the Negro American League, winner of the Negro World Series in 1946, the year before Jackie Robinson crossed the 20th century color line for the Dodgers.

She demanded that Negro league teams be compensated for the loss of their young black stars, incurring the enmity of Branch Rickey. Eagle players who went on to MLB stardom included Larry Doby, Monte Irvin, and Don Newcombe. Effa’s story is a fascinating one, well told in Jim Overmyer’s excellent biography “Queen of the Negro Leagues.”

She used her prominence in baseball circles on behalf of black causes. After she married Abe Manley, a wealthy “numbers” kingpin, in 1933, she connected baseball and civil rights. She was treasurer of the Newark chapter of the NAACP and she helped organize boycotts of stores in Harlem that wouldn’t employ black women as salesgirls. In 1939, the Eagles held an “Anti-Lynching Day” at Ruppert Stadium, their home ballpark.

Abe turned over the baseball club to Effa, who ran all facets of the organization. She was a glamorous figure, light-skinned and attractive, who enjoyed the limelight. In the lean executive structure of Negro league teams, she even on occasion directed the team on the field.

She was known as a players’ advocate, working on their behalf for better travel, schedules, playing conditions, and salaries for Negro league players. The Eagles rode in a $15,000 air-conditioned “Flexible Clipper” bus, a first in the Negro Leagues. 

Effa Manley lived her life entirely in the black community in the era of segregation, but she was in effect “passing” for black. Her mother was a white woman who married twice, to black men, and gave birth to seven children. According to Effa herself, her mother had a brief affair with a white man, and Effa was the offspring of that relationship.

Overmyer writes, “The common assumption was that if she was married to a black, lived in black neighborhoods, and ran a black business, then she was black and that was that.”

Kim Ng is the first female General Manager in Major League Baseball. Effa Manley is the only woman in the Hall of Fame. We can hope for the day when they both have some company and are no longer solitary historic figures.

In the next column, we examine women in uniform in professional baseball and ask the question when and if a woman will find her way onto a Major League roster and into the line-up.

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