The Wyoming State Prison Baseball Team Who Played for Their Lives
Imagine a baseball game where the players entered the field in shackles. This field of dreams was surrounded by armed guards aiming their rifles at the players. An officer uncuffed the team. Wearing blue uniforms with the white letters "W.S.P," they take their positions around the diamond. This team didn't just play to win, they played to live. It may sound like fiction, but it happened right here in Wyoming in 1911.
The shortstop murdered his boss over a conflict. The pitcher killed his father with a letter opener. In fact, every player was a convict on Wyoming's death row. They were found guilty of robbery, rape, and murder. During their time in the pen, they played baseball on what is known as Alston's All-Stars. As Chris Ness wrote in her book "Death Row All-Stars," their motivation was simple: If they won, their execution date was postponed, and they continue to play. If they lost, it would be the end of the road.
With the stakes high, the team did very well. Maybe it was because the players wanted to live. Maybe the game gave the convicts a purpose. Maybe the opposing team didn't want to steal second base from a murderer. Regardless of why each game was like its own little World Series. The Independent wrote about the team:
But in their 14-month heyday, between March 1911 and May 1912, they won 39 of their 45 games. In the process, the All Stars forced their way into the amateur Western Division Championship that featured local teams from a vast region stretching from California across the Rocky Mountains.
During the early 1900th century, the law wasn't the same as it was today. Inmates on death row didn't have the appeal system. America was enthralled with its new pastime of Baseball. The Wyoming State Prison in Rawlins had a new Warden, Felix Alston. When Alston first took over the prison, he noticed the inmates enjoyed to play ball in the yard. He decided to make it official. The team went on to be called Alston's All Stars.
The team was a sensation for the town. Businessmen, politicians, and the working class became enthralled with the winning team. Rumors began circling that the prison was making money from the team by illegal gambling. Reported in the New York Post, a convict was using the warden's money to make bets.
The good times didn't last too long for the death row inmates. In September of 1911, the Wyoming Governor, Joseph M. Carey, started cracking down on gambling in the state. Carey wrote a letter to Warden Alston concerned about gambling and money made off the games. By November, education was the new pastime for the inmates at the Wyoming State Prison. The prison had a new rehabilitation program, and Warden Alston had a brand new gold pocket watch for his efforts. As for the inmates on the team, they had to face their conviction as per the letter of the law.