Notable Alumni: Joe Black, Junior Gilliam, Henry Kimbro, Bill Byrd and Roy Campanella
Before these Giants were elite in Baltimore, they were merely standard in Nashville. Beginning operation as the Nashville Standard Giants in 1921, they became the Elite Giants in 1929 as an independent ball club (still in Nashville). In six years time, they would move to Ohio, becoming the Columbus Elite Giants before migrating again only a year later, this time to Washington D.C. After two years in the nation’s capital, the team would take root in Baltimore in 1938, and when it did get there, everything seemed to click into place with some newfound stability.
The Baltimore Elite Giants would go on to win two league championships, the first coming in 1939. Still relatively new to Baltimore, they defeated an absolutely loaded Homestead Grays team, which boasted future National Baseball Hall of Famers Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard. They would do it again a decade later, sweeping the Chicago American Giants to win the title of league champions in a restructured Negro American League.
Whatever joy came from that final championship was surely short-lived, however. In the Baltimore Elite’s final years, they reverted back to the general state of unknown that had accompanied them in the earlier years of their existence. Shuffling leadership and enduring financial hardships, the franchise would eventually come full circle. Sold in 1951, the team returned for one final season in Nashville, after which it was dissolved.
But even though the team's physical presence on the game was lost, its overall impact on the sport lingered for a long, long time. Two former Elite Giants, Joe Black and Jim Gilliam, would go on to win the National League Rookie of the Year Award in back-to-back seasons (1952 and '53) with the Brooklyn Dodgers. And then there was a former Elite Giants catcher by the name of Roy Campanella, who made a name for himself with the Dodgers as well, won three NL MVP Awards and ultimately was enshrined in Cooperstown.
It may have taken them a little while, but the Giants did indeed establish themselves as "Elite."