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  • The Baltimore Elite Giants: Sport and Society in the Age of Negro League Baseball
  • William E. Bessler
Luke, Bob. The Baltimore Elite Giants: Sport and Society in the Age of Negro League Baseball. Baltimore, Md.: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009. Pp. 192. Notes, photographs, illustrations, appendices, and index. $29.95 hb.

Based on interviews with former Negro League players and Baltimore residents, newspaper articles from the African-American press, archival documents, and illustrated with previously unpublished photographs, The Baltimore Elite Giants by Bob Luke recounts a barrier-breaking team’s successes, failures, and eventual demise. Luke, a sociologist and baseball writer, narrates the story of one of the best-known teams in the Negro Leagues, the Baltimore Elite Giants, and documents its interaction with the city and its people during the long years of segregation.

The Baltimore Elite Giants featured some of the outstanding African-American players of the day including 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 a coach for the Brooklyn Dodgers for twenty-five years. Luke highlights important games, relives the major performances of individual players, and discusses key decisions made by management. In addition, Luke describes the often contentious relationship between the team and Major League Baseball before, during, and after the major leagues were integrated.

The Baltimore Elite Giants did more than provide entertainment for the African-American residents of Baltimore: the team and its star players helped to break the color barrier in the major leagues, giving hope to an African-American community still oppressed by the Jim Crow laws of the time. In recounting the history of the Baltimore Elite Giants, Luke reveals how the team, its personalities, and its fans raised public awareness of the larger issues faced by African Americans in segregation-era Baltimore.

The book focuses on the Baltimore Elite Giants’ operation in the Negro Leagues from 1938 to its demise in 1951. In addition, the author supplies some rare black-and-white photographs, appendices on Negro League standings, a brief history of African-American baseball in Baltimore before the Elite Giants, club operating expenses in 1947, and suggestions for further reading—all of which greatly enhance the book.

Luke chooses two themes, which are interwoven throughout the book—the performance of the team and its individual players and the effects of segregation and discrimination on the business operation, the team, and its fans. The author contends that in order for the team to exist, numerous details had to be worked out including the rental of ballparks, transportation difficulties, the scheduling of games, and various financial difficulties that were strongly influenced by the racial problems of the time.

In the epilogue of the book, Luke “captures the ironic and bittersweet outcomes that integration visited on the Elites and on Baltimore” (p. 15). The author discusses the demise of Negro League baseball and the integration of the game following Jackie Robinson’s breaking of the color barrier. He points out that the integration of Major League Baseball opened up the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. However, for some African Americans, [End Page 333] integration meant the end of a chance to play the professional game at any level and the loss of many jobs associated with the end of the Negro Leagues.

The Baltimore Elite Giants: Sport and Society in the Age of Negro League Baseball by Bob Luke is extremely well researched and well written. The author provides the reader with much new information that he has uncovered from African-American newspapers of the time, interviews with Baltimore residents and former players of the time, archival documents, and rare black-and-white photographs from private collections. I highly recommend the book to anyone interested in the history of the Negro Leagues and African-American baseball. It is a classic study of an important Negro League baseball team, and it provides many insights into the relationship between sport and society. The author reminds the reader of our segregated past and how far we have come since the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2155-8455
Print ISSN
0094-1700
Pages
pp. 333-334
Launched on MUSE
2012-05-27
Open Access
No
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