Persistent Snow

The planned move of the Athletics to Las Vegas reminds us that baseball teams wander. The A's franchise will be on its fourth city. Our beloved O's have been stable for the lifetime of most fans, but our franchise is on its third city. An inaugural year in Milwaukee, 52 years as the duller color of St. Louis, and the glorious orange and black years we know. Doom fantasists see a fourth city on the Orioles horizon too. Dismiss them.

But can you imagine a team headquartered in four cities in the space of just 5 years? That's the story of one of Baltimore's other major league ball clubs, The Elite (EEE-light) Giants. The franchise began in 1930 in Nashville. (Don't go there. This starting point is NOT ominous.) While the team stayed in place for 4 years, it played in 3 different leagues. But even when the second Negro National League stabilized after 1933, the team wasn't making enough money to continue. They tried Columbus in 1935, without success, and then spent two years in Washington DC. Arriving in Baltimore in 1938, they finally drew well enough to put down roots. The Elites played in Baltimore for 11 seasons, until the Negro National League folded in 1948.

I am attracted to stories of people who carry on in the face of change. Not the flashy heroes, but the quieter folks whose constant, competent showing up prevents change from turning into breakdown. In the Elites history, I think I see one of those people in Felton Snow. Though Snow is the first player announced on the Paige All-Stars in the Satchel Paige biopic "Don't Look Back," information about him is scant. He doesn't have a SABR bio page. So, I'm reading between the lines of the statistics pages when I portray him.

Only 4 starting players from the 1934 Nashville Elites hung on through the whole voyage and arrived with the team in Baltimore. Felton Snow was not the shining star of these. Infielders Jim West and Sammy Hughes were better hitters and would earn 3 and 6 All-Star appearances respectively. The standout star was right fielder Wild Bill Wright, who played in 9 All-Star games in 7 years (a few seasons had first and second half All-Stars). Snow played in two (1935 and 1936), seemingly on the halo effect of batting .376 in 1934, his best season. More often, he hit closer to .250. He was a defensive third baseman, whose reputation rested on a strong throwing arm. A one-tool player who turns it into a 17-year career in baseball. Imagine what that takes. Snow would play more years with the Baltimore Elite Giants (through 1947) than any of his peers from Nashville.

In 1939, Felton Snow became the team's player-manager. I like to think that he stepped up to provide stability, since the team had been scrolling through a manager a year. Maybe it was the kind of opportunity that comes to the guy who always shows up. Maybe some of both. In any case, the team started to put together winning seasons with Snow at the helm and fielding the hot corner. The Homestead Grays were the powerhouse of this period, so his teams never won a pennant, but they were routinely second or third. Snow became the winningest manager in Elites franchise history, 279 wins and a .554 W-L%.

Baseball history, when it remembers the Baltimore Elite Giants, does so for their greatest players. Roy Campanella went on to a Hall of Fame career with the Dodgers. Pitcher Joe Black also joined the Dodgers after integration and was the Rookie of the Year in 1952. Henry Kimbro put up one of baseball's great offensive seasons in 1947, leading the Negro National Leage in runs, hits, doubles, RBI and batting average -- an OPS+ of 188.

Felton Snow was the man writing these names on the line-up cards of the 1940s. For obvious reasons, we'll never instantly recall his name as our city's great third baseman or great manager. But we should remember him as one of the people that year in, year out worked to ensure we had quality baseball in Baltimore in the years before our current team arrived.

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