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REMEMBERING THE NEGRO LEAGUES

Owners' Success Wasn't Strictly by the Numbers

Illegal gambling helped fund their franchises, but Manley, Pompez also had plenty of baseball savvy.

July 28, 2006|Lonnie White | Times Staff Writer

Two of the special inductees going into the baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday were executives who had enormous impact on the game in the black baseball era. They expanded opportunities for players, broadened the playing field and ran successful, powerful franchises. They also had something else in common.

Both had connections with illegal gambling.

Alejandro Pompez, owner of the Cuban Stars (later the Cuban Giants) of the Negro National League, and Effa Manley, a barrier-breaking female executive with the Newark Eagles, were connected to lucrative "numbers" operations that peaked during the 1920s and '30s and were fixtures in black communities across the nation.

Pompez ran one based in Harlem in New York City; Manley was married to a "numbers man" from Jersey City, N.J.

The special committee in charge of judging candidates from the black baseball era for Hall of Fame induction decided that the two made overall contributions to the game that far outweighed their links to illegal businesses.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday August 06, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 86 words Type of Material: Correction
Negro Leagues: The Sports series on the Negro Leagues included a July 28 article on former team owners that said Alejandro Pompez was the first owner in the league to sign Latin players. In fact, several Latin players had signed with major league teams before Pompez became an owner. Also, a chart on July 30 listed those who made the jump from the Negro League Monarchs to Major League Baseball. Left off was Harold M. Jones, a Monarch who later signed with the Kansas City Athletics.

"Both were worthy as executives," committee member Raymond Doswell said.

Pompez, a black Cuban American, got involved in baseball during the 1920s, building the Cuban Stars into a force and, in 1924, helping create the first Negro World Series. He also was the first owner to sign Latin players and among the first whose team played home night games.

Manley, the first woman to be voted into the Hall, helped her husband, Abe, make the Eagles into a powerhouse featuring such stars as Larry Doby, Don Newcombe, Monte Irvin, Leon Day, Ray Dandridge and Biz Mackey. She also is credited with pushing through rules requiring major league teams to pay compensation for signing Negro leaguers.

Pompez died in 1974 and Manley in 1981. Neither ever tried to hide the connection to "numbers running," which worked like a lottery: For as a little as a penny, a gambler picked any three-digit number. Usually, the last numbers of the daily handle at a racetrack or the next day's volume of the stock exchange determined the winner.

It was big business -- and provided the funding for several Negro league baseball teams.

Bob Kendrick, marketing director of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, said the numbers-running owners, who also included the innovative Gus Greenlee of the Pittsburgh Crawfords, "were revered in the community."

"They did a lot of good for people," Kendrick added. "They were leaders within the African American community, while the athletes were the heroes.

"Back then, no matter how much money you made you still lived in the same community. So people saw them on a daily basis."

Abe Manley's racketeering operation was anything but a well-kept secret, according to his wife.

"He was in a 100% illegal business, but the people loved him," she said in the 1984 documentary "There Was Always Sun Shining Someplace."

"He had enough money to throw away, to invest in what he wanted to do, and that was Negro baseball. He ended up actually losing money; he invested $100,000 in Negro baseball, but he enjoyed it and we had a wonderful team."

Pompez acknowledged his role in gambling when he was indicted in 1937 for his connection to Dutch Schultz's racketeering organization. He turned states evidence to avoid a long prison sentence, then reportedly gave up his numbers operation for good and moved to Mexico for two years.

In 1939, Pompez returned to New York and his Cuban Stars rejoined the Negro National League, for which he served as vice president. Over the years, Pompez developed a friendship with New York Giants owner Horace Stoneham, and in 1947 he became a Giants scout and the Cuban Stars became the club's farm team.

In his role as scout, Pompez helped to further integrate the major leagues, signing such Latin stars as Orlando Cepeda, Tony Oliva, Juan Marichal and Camilo Pascual.

He was so well respected that in 1970 he joined the Hall of Fame committee responsible for inducting the first four classes of Negro leaguers into Cooperstown.

Manley was no less influential.

She was in her early 20s when she met Abe, 24 years older, at the 1932 World Series. They were married in 1935 and took over the Eagles a year later, with Abe providing the financing and doing much of the scouting but with Effa running the team on a day-to-day basis.

"She was the person we dealt with," said Ted Toles, who played for the Crawfords and the Eagles in his career. "She was the person around the team every day."

Not only around, but directly involved.

Manley often gave advice to Eagles managers, crossing her legs to signal for a hit-and-run play from her seat near the team's bench.

This practice might have resulted in the invention of the batting helmet.

Legend has it that as her team played the Baltimore Elite Giants in 1942, Manley was responsible for the Eagles' Willie Wells being hit in the head by a pitch. It seems she hesitated while moving her legs and Wells was beaned as he stared at her.

The next game, Wells wore a construction hard hat when it was his turn at bat.

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