SportsJam with Doug Doyle: "Queen of The Negro Leagues" Author Jim Overmyer
Jim Overmyer is a baseball history author who specializes in the Negro Leagues. In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Negro Leagues, Overmyer is out with two new books this year.
In April of 2020, Overmyer released an updated version of Queen of the Negro Leagues: Effa Manley and the Newark Eagles. Earlier this year he wrote Cum Posey of the Homestead Grays: A Biography of the Negro Leagues Owner and Hall of Famer.
From his home in Arizona, Overmyer joined SportsJam host Doug Doyle for a Zoom chat about his books and career.
In Queen of the Negro Leagues: Effa Manley and the Newark Eagles, Negro Leagues Centennial Edition, Overmyer brings to light new details regarding the trailblazing female co-owner, including previously-unknown information about her childhood and family.
Overmyer says Manley was light-skinned and during interviews later in life she described herself as having an olive complexion.
"She grew up in an African-American family in Philadelphia and had four house siblings. The story she told later in life was that she was a little girl who got chastised by my principal at school because I was playing with the white kids all the time.. And when she told her mother, her mother said to go back and tell her you're as white as anyone."
Overmyer says some information has yet to be confirmed but Manley did say her mother told Effa that she had an affair with a white business man that she worked for.
"We've been picking away at this. And what we know now, what we think we know is her mother, Bertha, was most certainly half-caucasion, her mother was a daughter of two German immigrants. The story about Effa's father may well be true. Bertha's husband John Brooks (a black man),was a hundred years ahead of his time. He was a crook. He dealt in fraudulent mortgage securities but he wasn't very good at it. He went to jail twice, prison the last time. He was dispatched to jail his second time in 1894, about a three-year term. Unless he got out for good behavior, he would have had to have been incarcerated when Effa was conceived."
Overmyer says Effa Manley was good at her job as a co-owner and business manager with the Newark Eagles, dealing with contracts, budgets, uniforms and schedules.
"We don't have access to specific profit and loss things, but the Eagles' files do have some tax returns that she and her husband (co-owner) Abe filed, corporate tax returns early in the team's existence which showed they lost money, which in the Negro Leagues in the 1930's was pretty likely. There's a fairly complete set of attendance records at their home ballpark Ruppert Stadium which used to be in the Ironbound section down there. The Yankees owned it. The Newark Bears played there. The Eagles leased it and you had to fill out this form because the Bears took a share of the revenue. The way they (Eagles) were going, they were losing money in the 30's and as World War II started they began to make money. While the minor leagues were folding and the white Majors were running deficits or not making much money the Black teams were doing really well during the war. As had been in World War I, there had been an influx of Blacks moving up from the South to take Defense industry jobs and Defense support jobs. So here they were, of course there was gasoline and tire rationing so here you are in a new place in the North and you can't really go anywhere, but you go to ballgames. So the Negro Leagues did really well during the war."
In 2006, Effa Manley was posthumously inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Manley died in 1981 at the age of 84.
Overmyer is certainly qualified to judge Manley's business abilities. Between 1986 and 1992, Overmyer held the position of budget analyst at the New York State Assembly in Albany. In 1992-1995 he served at New York State Division of the Budget as a budget examiner.
The acclaimed author served in the U.S. Army between 1968 and 1972 and became a captain. From 1972 to 1979, Overmyer was a reporter for the Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
Overmyer admits probably a number of today's ballplayers have no idea about Cumberland Posey but they do know about the Homestead Grays, one of the most successful teams in Negro League history, playing their home games in Pittsburgh in the early days.
In his new book, Cum Posey of the Homestead Grays: A Biography of the Negro Leagues Owner and Hall of Famer, Overmyer described how Posey began his career in 1911 playing outfield for the Grays, a local black team in his Pennsylvania hometown. He soon became the squad's driving force as they dominated semi-pro ball in the Pittsburgh area. By the late 1930's teh Grays were at the top of the Negro Leagues with nine straight pennant wins.
Posey was also a League offier, serving 13 years as the first black member of the Homestead school board. He also wrote an outspoken sports column for the African-American weekly, the Pittsburgh Courier.
Ten years after his induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, he became a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, one of only two athletes to be honored by two pro sports halls.
"He was a good baseball player. He hit his ceiling in the early 20's. He's running the team, he's managing the team, he's playing left field and he wasn't bad. He was a good fielder and he was very fast which had a lot to do with his basketball success. He really wasn't that great of a hitter. As he started to make the Grays a regional Pittsburgh attraction into a team you could take on the road, he started to replace the hometown stars with better players. One of the players he replaced was himself."
Posey was regarded as one of the best black basketball players in the East.
"He was an outstanding basketball player, one of the best if not thee best in his prime, black basketball players on the Eastern seaboard."
Overmyer says Posey's parents were financially secure and well-educated so they sent their kids to college.
"He (Cumberland) went to Penn State where he's recognized as the first African-American varsity athlete there. And if he'd been a little less of an athlete and a little more of a student, he might have had a degree, but he left his sophomore year as college students sometimes do. He enrolled at Pitt for a little while and he dropped out again and later said that he did it because of extreme discrimination by the basketball coach and athletic director. Around 1923, Duquesne comes up with this new starter in their lineup whose name for the box scores is Charles Cumbert and it's Posey. If you talk to the Registrar there, he may have been the first athlete there but he never went to class here, (chuckling) which was not unusual in those days."
Overmyer and his great friend, fellow Black Baseball author and historian Dr. Lawrence Hogan, Professor Emeritus of History at Union County College and prior SportsJam guest, are both passionate about the Negro Leagues. Even though Overmyer admits he'll never get rich writing about those days, he feels the 100th anniversary is making a difference in creating more awareness.
"There was so much of the history lost when people stopped being interested in the Black Leagues. The Negro Leagues were underfunded. They were on the wrong side of the segregation thing, including financially. They were covered mostly by the Black weekly papers which might or might not run a good box score. It's odd. You're working to revive the day-to-day history of something that happened 70 years ago. When you stop and think about it, that's pretty weird, but we're doing it."
The author and his wife Ellen were big fans of the first couple of seasons of HBO's Boardwalk Empire series, especially when Overmyer was writing his book Black Ball and the Boardwalk: The Bacharach Giants of Atlantic City 1916-1929.
"The first season was pretty factual. The second season was...pretty factual and like most TV series it went it to outer space. But I'm researching the book while the first season is on and we're watching it every Sunda night and something will happen and I'll say you know that really happened."
It was Ellen who encouraged her husband to intially write about Effa Manley.
The Centennial Edition of Queen of the Negro Leagues is published by Rowman & Littlefied. McFarland & Company is the publisher of the Posey book.
You can hear many more stories about those books by clicking at the top of the page and the latest edition of SportsJam with Doug Doyle.