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The Baltimore Elite Giants: Sport and Society in the Age of Negro League Baseball Hardcover – March 24, 2009
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"A spirited account of a game framed and shaped by serious issues."(Baltimore Magazine)
"Finely balanced portrait."(History News Network)
"A raising of consciousness about one of the legendary teams from the old Negro Leagues."(Harvey Frommer Sports)
"Luke attempts to give the team its rightful place in baseball history."(Baltimore Sun)
"Captures the Elites and their era, inside and outside the chalked lines of the field."(Gelf Magazine)
"Bob Luke has created a prism reflecting the impact of one largely forgotten Negro league team on a city... [Luke] hit it out of the park."(Washington Times)
"If any evidence existed on a particular subject, the author found it... Luke has offered yet another intriguing look at how the game reflects America and reveals the bond between the sport and society."(Journal of American Culture)
"An insightful analysis of Negro League baseball during a time of transition."(Journal of Southern History)
From the Back Cover
Robert Peterson Award, Jerry Malloy Negro League Conference
One of the best-known teams in the old Negro Leagues, the Elite Giants of Baltimore featured some of the outstanding African American players of the day. Sociologist and baseball writer Bob Luke narrates the untold story of the team and its interaction with the city and its people during the long years of segregation.
To convey a sense of the action on the field and the major events in the team’s history, Luke highlights important games, relives the standout performances of individual players, and discusses key decisions made by management. He introduces the team’s eventual major league stars: Roy Campanella, who went on to a ten-year Hall of Fame career with the Brooklyn Dodgers; Joe Black, the first African American pitcher to win a World Series game; and James "Junior" Gilliam, a player and coach with the Dodgers for twenty-five years. Luke also describes the often contentious relationship between the team and major league baseball before, during, and after the integration of the major leagues.
The Elite Giants did more than provide entertainment for Baltimore’s black residents; the team and its star players broke the color barrier in the major leagues, giving hope to an African American community still oppressed by Jim Crow. In recounting the history of the Elite Giants, Luke reveals how the team, its personalities, and its fans raised public awareness of the larger issues faced by blacks in segregation-era Baltimore.
Based on interviews with former players and Baltimore residents, articles from the black press of the time, and archival documents, and illustrated with previously unpublished photographs, The Baltimore Elite Giants recounts a barrier-breaking team’s successes, failures, and eventual demise.
"A spirited account of a game framed and shaped by serious issues."― Baltimore Magazine
"Finely balanced portrait."― History News Network
"A raising of consciousness about one of the legendary teams from the old Negro Leagues."― Harvey Frommer Sports
"Luke attempts to give the team its rightful place in baseball history."― Baltimore Sun
"Bob Luke has created a prism reflecting the impact of one largely forgotten Negro league team on a city... [Luke] hit it out of the park."― Washington Times
"If any evidence existed on a particular subject, the author found it... Luke has offered yet another intriguing look at how the game reflects America and reveals the bond between the sport and society."― Journal of American Culture
"Luke provides an insightful analysis of Negro League baseball during a time of transition."―Journal of Southern History
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Author Bob Luke "examines how segregation and discrimination affected the Elites operation--finding a ballpark, surviving financially, offering a sanctuary to the city's black community."
Next to church, the No. 1 place for blacks to go was the ballpark, according to Luke. Baltimore had a large and growing black community with a substantial middle class. The height of success for the Elites came during World War II when there were more jobs (typically the lower paying ones) for blacks. During that prosperous time, the Elites' attendance increased.
Negro League teams were plagued by impromptu and inconsistent scheduling, no official scorekeepers, shoddy record keeping, no league constitution, virtually no individual player contracts and no official league umpires. Many of the teams were run by men who were racketeers, who had made their money through illegal gambling (the numbers game).
Three well-known major leaguers--Roy Campanella, Joe Black and Junior Gilliam played for the Baltimore Elite Giants. Campanella was a 16-year-old catcher for the 1938 team. He played with the Elites until 1946 when he was signed to a minor league contract by Branch Rickey. Campy once caught four games in a day while playing for the Elites when the club played a pair of doubleheaders 75 miles apart in Ohio.
It's disappointing that there are no reminiscences about their days with the Elites from Campanella, Black or Gilliam. I'm sure though it is not because Luke didn't try to locate some. And, while Luke chronicles the coming and going of players and the individual seasons, details are scarce. The absence of reminiscences and game details, in part, can be explained by the skimpy coverage of the Negro Leagues, even by the Afro-American newspaper.
Luke does an excellent job of chronicling the progress of blacks in Baltimore and providing a social history from 1938 to the mid-1950s.
Luke's book is a valuable addition to the history of the Negro Leagues and particularly the Baltimore Elite Giants.
This book tells the story of this team, its place in the history of race in Baltimore, and the nature of American society during a period of intensive change. Author Bob Luke seeks to situate the team in the larger context of community, race, politics, and economics and often succeeds quite well. This work is well researched and referenced and offers a useful discussion of a topic central to understanding the African American experience in the twentieth century.