Negro League’s Manning diesThe Press of Atlantic City
June 25, 2003
By Bill LeConey, Staff Writer
As a pitcher, Max Manning could fire the baseball past any batter. Off the field, he broke through barriers with words and actions that endeared him to generations of young people.
Manning died Monday at Linwood Health and Rehabilitation Center after a long illness. He was 84 years old.
Manning was a star Negro League pitcher in the era of segregated baseball. He taught for 28 years in the Pleasantville school system and ran the city's recreation department.
Manning's daughter, Belinda, said it was ironic that Manning died while his former teammate, Larry Doby, was being memorialized in a service in Montclair. Manning played with Doby on the 1946 Negro League champion Newark Eagles.
"He will definitely be missed for the contributions that he made to the community and to the sports life in this town," said Lincoln Green, a former Manning student.
"You never really know how many lives a man touches until he's gone," Belinda Manning said. "We've been getting calls all day from people sharing memories of my father."
Manning was one of the dominant right-handed pitchers of the 1940s but never played in the major leagues.
He was the only black player on the 1937 Pleasantville High School baseball team. That year, he received a letter from Detroit Tigers scout Max Bishop inviting him to a major-league tryout. Bishop apparently did not know that Manning was black. Manning's father told him to throw the letter away.
Manning started college at Lincoln University, where he became friends with future teammate Monte Irvin. He played on a semi-pro team for Atlantic City's legendary John Henry "Pop" Lloyd, who took Manning under his wing.
The 6-foot-4 Manning was an imposing figure on the mound. He wore "Coke-bottle glasses" that earned him the nickname "Dr. Cyclops." He became an immediate sensation when he signed with the Eagles in 1938. In his first start, he shut out the mighty Homestead Grays, with Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard.
He earned his reputation with a 90 mph fastball, a submarine-style delivery and a "deliberate speck of wildness" - just enough to keep batters from digging in at the plate.
Manning helped the Eagles become one of the top teams in the East. In 1946, he went 15-1 and won the clinching game of the World Series to upset the favored Kansas City Monarchs. He also played on barnstorming tours with Satchel Paige's All-Stars, and once struck out 14 major-leaguers in a game. He had stints in the Cuban League and Mexican League. He also played in Venezuela and Canada. He never made more than $700 a month.
Manning served four years in the U.S. Army, including two years during World War II in Europe, where he was a driver for the famed "Red Ball Express," which supplied gasoline to General George S. Patton's Third Army tanks.
He hurt his throwing shoulder in 1948 and could never throw as hard after that. He said he received "feelers" from major league teams after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947.
"If I had gone to the majors, I never would have gotten a college education (he graduated from Glassboro State College in 1955). I'm convinced things worked just the way they were supposed to work."
While traveling among cities of the Negro League, Manning faced the racial segregation imposed on blacks in that era. "There were times you stayed in private homes and the only shower you could take was there, or at a black hotel, which was not a first-class hotel," he said.
Atlantic City resident Art Dorrington, who overcame racial barriers to play minor-league ice hockey in the 1950s, said Manning "was ahead of his time. He went through all of that segregation, but he was never bitter about it. He was an easy-going person, and he never let his feelings out. He always stayed upbeat."
After retiring from teaching in 1983, Manning remained busy with gardening, writing about sports and the fight for civil rights. He was president of the Pop Lloyd foundation and was instrumental in securing funds to renovate a stadium named for his mentor.
Manning was inducted into the International Scholar-Athlete Hall of Fame and the South Jersey Baseball Hall of Fame. He is depicted in a sculpture featuring Negro League greats near the entrance to Sandcastle Stadium in Atlantic City.
Pleasantville's Park Avenue recreation field was renamed Max Manning Complex six years ago. On Tuesday, there were young men playing basketball at the complex and children climbing through the playground equipment, but the baseball fields were empty.
Manning is survived by four children, eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. His wife of 55 years, Dorothy, died in December.
There will be a memorial service for Max Manning at 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, 118 W. Bayview Ave., Pleasantville.