SOURCE: WREX 13 Rockford, IL (2-28-06)
"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."
This year's Hall class - 18, including former reliever Bruce Sutter - is by far the biggest in history, breaking the record of 11 in 1946. There are now 278 Hall members.
Mule Suttles and Biz Mackey were among the 12 players selected, along with five executives.
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.
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."
Ray Brown, Willard Brown, Andy Cooper, Cristobal Torriente and Jud Wilson were the other former Negro League players elected. Five pre-Negro Leaguers - Frank Grant, Pete Hill, Jose Mendez, Louis Santop and Ben Taylor - were also chosen.
Willard Brown was the only person among them to play in the majors - he hit .179 in 21 games with the St. Louis Browns in 1947.
Alex Pompez, Cum Posey, J.L. Wilkinson and Sol White were the other executives elected.
The new inductees will be enshrined with Sutter - elected by the Baseball Writers' Association of America last month - on July 30 in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Only 18 Negro Leagues players had been chosen for the Hall prior to this election.
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 1920-1954. 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."
Candidates needed nine of 12 votes - 75 percent - from the committee of researchers, professors and baseball historians for election.
Former baseball commissioner Fay Vincent chaired the committee, which voted by secret ballot. Vote totals were not released.
O'Neil, now 94, started his playing career in the 1930s and hit .288 lifetime. He became the first black coach in the majors in 1962 with the Chicago Cubs, and played a key role in the building of the Negro League museum in Kansas City. He served on the Hall's Veterans Committee for nearly two decades.
Minoso played in the major leagues for 17 seasons, mostly with the Chicago White Sox, and hit .298 lifetime. He was a seven-time All-Star and won three Gold Gloves in the outfield.
"I know that baseball fans have me in their own Hall of Fame - the one in their hearts," the 83-year-old Minoso said. "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."