Mr. Max Manning
Born: Nov. 18, 1918 - Rome, GA.
The 6-foot 4-inch Manning, sometimes called "Dr. Cyclops' because of the thick eyeglasses he wore, signed with the Newark Eagles of the Negro National League in 1938. His 10-year career with the Eagles was interrupted by service in World War II.
Max Manning grew up in New Jersey. He went to a mostly white high school and his coach as a former Federal Leaguer, who, while prejudiced, saw that Max was too good to pass up. By his senior year Max was attracting nation-wide attention. Detroit Tiger scout Max "Camera Eye" Bishop was apparently short on film when he tendered Max a contract-- which he rescinded when he discovered the star pitcher of the otherwise white team was black. Max then started college at Lincoln University, where he became fast friends with Monte Irvin outside of school he played on a semi-pro team for the legendary John Henry "Pops" Lloyd, now a Hall of Famer. He taught young Manning the fine points of the game and life.
Manning and Irving soon turned pro and joined the Newark Eagles in 1938. With Hall of Fame teammates like Irvin, Leon Day, Larry Doby, Willie Wells and Ray Dandridge, Max as part of a very strong Newark team. Manning pitched his very first game against the mighty Homestead Grays--Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, et al--and beat them, 2-0. He always considered that game the most memorable of his career. He pitched well the next couple of years, earning his reputation with speed, a half sidearm, half submarine style, along with "deliberate speck of wildness."
Like many young men in the 1940's, Max took tune off from his career to serve his country perhaps fighting for freedom in Europe while knowing about segregation at home---and serving a segregated army--was a bit much for Max. According to Jim Riley's encyclopedia on Black baseball, Max served time in the stockade for insubordination.
After the war he returned to the Eagles. He had put some weight on his lanky, 6 4 frame which be attributed to a steady diet of army food. Although records for the Negro Leagues are still incomplete despite the hard work of many researchers, he had records like 15-1, 15-6, 11-6 & 10-4 for the 60-80 game seasons. The Eagles, who also had Dick Lundy as manager and Biz Mackey as catcher, were world beaters in 1946. Max made the East-West team, then barnstormed over the winter with the Satchel Paige All Stars against Bob Feller's All Star team Not only did he play well and make more money than he had ever seen, he realized that given the chance, he could play major league ball. Following another successful season in '47, he went to Cuba, where he became friends with Carl Erskine, who taught him the change-up. It was good that he did.
In 1948 Manning, who had always been in conflict with Eagles' owner Effa Manley, held out when she refused him a raise. When they finally came to terms, he rushed through belated Spring training and ended up separating his shoulder. He underwent surgery and followed a rigorous rehab program, but they didn't have the know-how and equipment we do today, specially in the Negro Leagues. He was never the same. While he got by on skill--like his new change-up--he had lost the speed on his fastball. The Negro Leagues started their slide into oblivion when Jackie Robinson crossed the color barrier, and in 1949 the Newark team relocated to Houston. By this time Max was 31 and had a bad arm. He was not a major league prospect, so he followed the journey travelled by many Negro Leaguers in the same boat. Manning played both South and North of the border, earning a living in Venezuela, Mexico and Canada. He may not have been a Satch or a Josh, but he was definitely a star in his time.
Finally, his wife declared "Enough already! Take your G.I. Bill and go back to college." She had already become a teacher, and Max joined her in that trying profession when he graduated in 1955. He taught 6th grade in his native Pleasanton, NJ until 1983. After that he remained busy by gardening, writing about sports and continuing his involvement in the fight for civil rights.