Effa Manley became the first woman elected to the baseball Hall of Fame when the former Newark Eagles executive was among 17 people from the Negro Leagues and pre-Negro Leagues chosen Monday by a special committee.
"This is a historic day at the Hall of Fame," shrine president Dale Petroskey said. "I hoped that someday there would be a woman in the Hall. It's a pretty proud moment."
Manley co-owned the New Jersey-based Eagles with her husband, Abe, and ran the business end of the team for more than a decade. The Eagles won the Negro Leagues World Series in 1946 -- one year before Jackie Robinson broke the major-league color barrier.
"She was very knowledgeable, a very handsome woman," said Hall of Famer Monte Irvin, who played for the Eagles while the Manleys owned the team, as did Don Newcombe and Larry Doby.
"She did a lot for the Newark community. She was just a well-rounded, influential person," Irvin said. "She tried to organize the owners to build their own parks and have a balanced schedule and to really improve the lot of the Negro League players."
Manley was white but married a black man and passed as a black woman, said Larry Lester, a baseball author and member of the voting committee.
"She campaigned to get as much money as possible for these ballplayers, and rightfully so," Lester said.
Manley used baseball to advance civil rights causes with events such as an Anti-Lynching Day at the ballpark. She died in 1981 at age 84.
"She was a pioneer in so many ways, in terms of integrating the team with the community," said Leslie Heaphy, a Kent State professor on the committee. "She's also one of the owners who pushed very hard to get recognition for Major League Baseball when they started to sign some of their players."
Buck O'Neil and Minnie Minoso, the only living members among the 39 candidates on the ballot, were not elected by the 12-person panel.
The election was the culmination of a Hall of Fame project to compile a complete history of blacks in the game from 1860 to 1960.
More than 50 historians, authors and researchers spent four years sifting through box scores in 128 newspapers of sanctioned league games from 1920-54. The result was the most complete collection of Negro Leagues statistics ever compiled, according to the Hall, and a database that includes 3,000 day-by-day records and career leaders.
"What we're proudest of is the broadening of knowledge," Petroskey said. "When we started five years ago, we had 20 percent of the stats. We've got 90 percent of the stats now."