In 1910, Death Row Inmates Played Baseball For Their Lives

Credit: The New York Post

Sheriff Alston Creates The Wyoming State Penitentiary All Stars

Sheriff Felix Alston was much more compassionate to the prisoners than his predecessor. He allowed them to get outside and exercise on the prison grounds. Many of these men had not been out in daylight for the ten years – since the prison had first opened. This is how the baseball team started. It was the most entertaining activity that they could all do together outside. It was during these recess sessions that Alston began to notice that some of these men had a true talent for baseball that was on-level with professional players.

Sheriff Alston was friends with the governor of Wyoming, Joseph Carey. He asked for permission to let the men form their own baseball team. Governor Carey was a gambler, and he could see the golden opportunity to make a profit off of the convicts. So he agreed to let The Wyoming State Penitentiary All Stars form a proper team. The team was given brand new uniforms, and they were treated like true athletes. The Wyoming Supply Company Juniors was a local company team who agreed to play against the convicts. The WSP All Stars pummeled them with a score of 11 to 1.

Joseph Seng’s mugshot. Credit: NY Post

Joseph Seng was the best player on the team. He was on death row for killing his girlfriend’s husband in hopes that they could run away together. Even though he was a convicted murderer, people almost sympathized with the fact that he killed his lover’s husband. It was dramatic and sort of romantic (in a crazy, violent sort of way). Knowing his back story made people more invested in the games and journalists began writing about The All Stars in the newspapers across the United States. Joseph Seng was hitting home runs in nearly every game. Most people thought that it was a shame that such an athletic man with so much potential was on death row. People started writing letters to the governor of Wyoming asking for him to lessen Seng’s sentence. Rumors spread that if he could win enough games, he might have his sentence reduced from the death penalty to life in prison.

George Saban was a murderer who became the captain of the baseball team. Cattle herders and sheep farmers in Wyoming were in the middle of a turf war, because they were encroaching on one another’s land and destroying their businesses. There was still a lot of respect for the old west style justice of shooting these people that were encroaching on his land. Because of that, a lot of people actually sympathized with him, including Sheriff Alston. He just so happen to be the one who originally arrested Saban. He completely sympathized with his motives for murder, but had to arrest him all the same.

Alston allowed Saban to come and go from the prison as he pleased in civilian clothes during the day. He was accompanied by an armed police officer at all times. As long as he came back to spend his nights in the prison, he basically got to live the life of a free man. While he was at the local bars, Saban would tell the men about how much they were training behind bars. This fascinated the local men and encouraged them to bet on the All-Star team. Of course the warden and Governor Carey were both able to profit off this gambling, and it was all part of their bigger strategy.