How Winning Baseball Games Temporarily Saved These Death Row Inmates

Death is inevitable for inmates on death row, save for the extremely rare clemency that can reduce a prisoner's sentence or clear them of their crimes in cases of wrongful conviction. There is no certain length of time the prisoners are given before their execution, and some spend decades waiting for their impending death. On death row, prisoners are mostly isolated and not given learning or work opportunities, some of them being isolated for 23 hours out of the day (via Death Penalty Information Center).

In Rawlins, Wyoming, at the turn of the 20th century, inmates were subjected to skinning or hanging, and not only that, their hides were used to create items such as shoes — a warning to those itching to break the law, as reported by the New York Post. In 1911, County Sheriff Felix Alston was named the new warden for the Wyoming State Penitentiary. What once was described by prisoners as a place "of the Dark ages" was improved by Alston, providing reform programs for the inmates, including the formation of a baseball team. Thus, the Wyoming State Penitentiary All Stars team was born.

Playing for life or death

The death row baseball team consisted of 12 convicted felons — three murderers, five thieves, three rapists, and one forger. Sheriff Alston was good friends with Wyoming Gov. Joseph Carey, who loved to gamble, and the death row inmates were arranged to play with some baseball teams, according to History Collection. It wasn't pure fun and games, however, as the inmates were told that losing would add years to their sentence while winning will reward them with stays of execution and lessened time sentences — they were playing for their lives.

News spread of baseball games and a lot of gamblers bet on the All Stars, knowing that they would give their all to spare their lives. The inmates, indeed, played their best, which resulted in four wins and no losses. After their fourth victory, however, the governor put an end to gambling, perhaps to quell the rumors that Wyoming officials were placing bets on the baseball games (at least one judge and three politicians did, according to the Independent). This resulted in the games being stopped, and eventually, a new education program was put into place.

The team's standout star was murderer Joseph Seng. Despite the All Star's four wins, Seng's death sentence was never commuted. Their wins only delayed the inevitable, and Seng was hanged on May 24, 1912, just nine months after his original execution date (via Daily Mail).