Death Row All Stars. Baseball. You win and see tomorrow, you lose and you are executed. Imagine the pressure on each play and at-bat. That was the general concept of the Death Row All Stars. I came across this story in the NY Post.
When Felix Alston became Warden of the State Penitentiary in Rawlins, Wyoming he had an idea that he would be more compassionate to the prisoners under his charge. Alston loved baseball and many of these guys had 23 hours per day of confinement. Some had not been outside in ten years. Alston considered baseball the perfect exercise for his guys. Afterall, it was entertaining and good physical exercise. He allowed them to go out and play and it was during this time that he discovered some of them had great talent in the game.
One of Alston’s good friends was the Governor of Wyoming, Joseph Carey. He went to ask the governor for permission to field a team and laid out the logistics of how it will be carried out. Governor Carey was a gambler and saw an opportunity to make some money on this project. He allowed the team to be formed. New uniform were given and a local company called the Wyoming Supply Company Juniors agreed to play the convicts. This was the best team around. All over town, bets were being taken on the outcome of each game they played.
One of the players of the team was named captain and that was George Saban. He was a murderer. His crime was killing people that encroached on other land. During thi time period of the old west, people didn’t like that much and
picture of Sheriff Felix Alston circa 1901
Saban shot some cattle herders and sheep farmers, while they were sleeping, who were trying to poach livestock on property not belonging to them. People were sympathetic towards Saban and that included the arresting officer who was the sheriff and his name was Felix Alston, the now warden. Saban was allowed to get in regular clothes and he and a guard, D.O. Johnson, ( a guard with family in the cattle business) would go to the saloons and talk baseball and encourage and collect bets on the All-Stars games with 20% going to the Governor of Wyoming. . Then each night Saban was back in his cell.
This would be a profitable venture as long at the All Stars win. The premise here was if you win, you got time off your sentence and if you lost time would be added. If you were on death row, then you either had your death date later and possibly if you lose, it could be as soon as tomorrow.
The Death Row All Stars easily defeated the best team in town 11-1. The entire team seemed to flock to the park to watch the game which had guard with high powered rifle all around the perimeter.
In 1910, Death Row Inmates Played Baseball For Their Lives
The best player on the team was Joseph Seng. He was on death row for killing his girlfriend’s husband and hoping to run away somewhere. People sympathized with him for some odd reason. Seng hit home runs in nearly every game or several per game. . People began a writing campaign to the Governor to have his sentence reduced. They stated that a man with so much athletic ability shouldn’t be put to death. At the very least just change his sentence to life in prison.
One twist happened, the former warden wanted his old job back so he contacted a local state officials who wanted to run for governor and told him what was happening. The ball started rolling and Governor Carey began to back off his baseball team and the bets. He began pushing the warden to install more educational avenues for the prisoners.
Fourteen months after it began, the team folded. The Death Row All-Stars ended their career going 4-0 and made the Governor some money. Things didn’t change for the winning prisoners except a few delays here and there. Joseph Seng was originally scheduled to be executed on May 24, 1012 instead of the original date of August 22, 1911.
At his execution, which was attended by a throng of reporters, this was what they said:
he walked bravely, with pride, and without fear. He knew that this truth may be the last year of his life and he lived it to the fullest, and he accepted his fate, closing the chapter on the prison team forever.
Death Row All Stars is an interesting story. Especially coming from an old-fashioned town like Rawlins, Wyoming.