When Major Leaguers played against prisoners
March 3, 2022
With no new progress on major league baseball’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA), it looks like some regular-season games will be canceled this year. The owners have continued to lock out the players impacting spring training. Without a chance to prepare players for the regular season, we will lose games. After a CBA is accepted, it will take at least four weeks of spring training before the regular season can begin. It’s anyone’s guess when that will be since both sides seem to be far apart in the negotiations.
But this article isn’t about players that are locked out, it’s about players that are locked up. California and New York prisons hosted baseball games as early as the 1880s and played against MLB players in 1913. Over the years, some of the biggest stars in baseball, including Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio, played in these games against prisoners.
San Quentin State Prison in California has had a history of baseball beginning in 1902 and still has teams today. After try-outs in February, players are split into two teams, the Giants and the A’s. Baseball was suspended at the prison due to COVID-19 since March 12, 2020. Try-outs opened back up on June 9, 2021. Unfortunately, the suspension broke a streak of twenty-five consecutive seasons played on a field lined with razor wire.
On September 5, 1929, the New York Yankees led by Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig went to Sing Sing prison to play an exhibition game against the prisoners. The Yankees won the game 17-3, with Ruth hitting three home runs and pitching the final two innings. One of Ruth’s homers, according to legend, traveled six hundred twenty feet.
A game at the Folsom State Prison in California in February 1942 had to be stopped after the seventh inning with Dom DiMaggio’s (Joe’s brother) All-Stars team ahead 24-5. The stoppage wasn’t due to a mercy rule in the score but the discovery that two prisoners had escaped. Industrious convicts Elvia Mead and Philip Gardner cut a hole in the prison yard fence during the game.
“They jumped into the power canal, swam across the swift stream and pulled themselves up the bank with prison-made ropes,” according to the United Press.
Gardner was caught at the final guard post, and Mead was found six miles away at Mississippi Bar. Surprisingly, Folsom continued to host games after the escape attempt. It had been hosting games in the prison yard since 1915 and continued until 1965, when the field was paved over.