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Max Manning

Sport: Baseball

Born: November 18, 1918

Died: June 23, 2003

Town: Hillsborough Township

Maxwell Manning was born November 18, 1918 in Rome, Georgia and moved to Pleasantville, New Jersey as a boy. There Max learned the fine art of throwing a baseball, first in sandlot games in and around neighboring Atlantic City and later as a member of the Pleasantville High School Greyhounds. Tall, lanky and dreadfully nearsighted, Max also took the mound for the Johnson Stars, a team sponsored by Atlantic City political boss Nucky Johnson, and managed by Negro League legend Pop Lloyd. Everything Max threw was hard, heavy and down around the knees. His name appeared regularly in the local papers.

In 1937, a scout for the Tigers wired Max that the team was interested in signing him. The offer was sight-unseen, which was problematic because Detroit assumed he was white. The offer was rescinded when his race was revealed. Instead, Max signed with the Newark Eagles in 1938. In his first game as an Eagle he fanned the first five batters he faced—all members of the 1937 champion Homestead Grays. In 1940, teammates began calling him Dr. Cyclops because of the thick glasses he wore—a film of the same name was a big hit that spring.

Max was one of the better pitchers in black baseball in his early 20s when his career was interrupted by World War II. He served in the Quartermasters Corps in Europe from 1942 to 1945, driving supply trucks for Patton’s Third Army and the 101st Airborne.

Back in a baseball uniform in 1946, Max went 11–1 and teamed with fellow strikeout artist Leon Day to lead Newark to the Negro League championship over the Kansas City Monarchs. After the series he joined Satchel Paige’s barnstorming group, which traveled with the Bob Feller All-Stars. In one game, Max fanned 14 big leaguers. After adding a changeup to his fastball and curve, Max was among the most complete pitchers in all of baseball, white or black. This caught the attention of the New York Giants, who expressed an interest in signing him. Negro League teams were not part of organized baseball, which meant the Eagles did not have to be compensated when their players were signed away. Max insisted that they make a deal with the Eagles, and the Giants lost interest.

In 1948, Max injured his shoulder which took away his fastball. It was probably a rotator cuff tear, and he actually underwent surgery to attempt to fix it. Although he pitched well in the years that followed, his 90-plus mph fastball never returned. Without a spot in the majors, and with the Negro Leagues disintegrating, Max pitched in Venezuela and Mexico for a time, wrapping up his career in the early 1950s in Canada.

Max set his sights on a teaching career and attended Glassboro State on the GI Bill. He pitched for the baseball team while earning his degree, and taught elementary school in Pleasantiville until his retirement in the early 1980s. He passed away at the age of 84. A park in his hometown was named in his honor.

 

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