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The Death Row Inmates Who Played Baseball In The Hopes Of Delaying Their Executions

Death Row Inmates Play Baseball for Their Lives

In 1910, something extraordinary happened in Rawlins, Wyoming. The sheriff, Felix Alston, allowed death row inmates to leave their cells and play baseball outside on the prison grounds. Alston noticed that some of the prisoners were extremely talented, so he asked his friend, then-Wyoming Governor Joseph Carey, if he could form a baseball team using the prisoners. Carey, a known gambler, let Alston form The Wyoming State Penitentiary All Stars in the hopes that he would be able to make a profit off the team.

The All Stars

The inmates received team uniforms and were set to play a local company team called the Wyoming Supply Company Juniors, with the All Stars winning 11 to 1. Some of the inmates helped fill seats by garnering sympathy from sports fans and journalists, including Joseph Seng. Seng was the star player on the team, and had been convicted of killing his girlfriend’s husband, hoping she would run away with him. People were so enamored with Seng they wrote letters to Governor Carey asking to reduce Seng’s sentence.

  • George Saban was another sympathetic player and the captain of the team. He was reportedly a rancher who had killed other farmers encroaching on his land, something some people could still respect in Wyoming at the time. Alston, who personally arrested Saban, reportedly sympathized with Saban and even allowed him to leave the prison in civilian clothes during the day, though he had an armed police officer with him. Saban was required to return to the prison to sleep, but was otherwise treated like a free man.
  • With the team succeeding, the baseball players began receiving special treatment in prison, including more food. When other prisoners heard a rumor that star player Seng might have the death penalty removed from his sentence, they became incensed – and someone even tried to kill him on the day he was supposed to be executed.
  • Seng survived, and Alston blamed the delay of the execution on bureaucracy. Still, the rumor persisted, with team captain Saban furthering it to motivate players to continue to play well.

The rumors surrounding the team spread far and wide about the death row inmates playing baseball to have their lives spared, with some suggesting the governor was involved. In response, Governor Carey started a new campaign aimed at gambling in an attempt to seem like he was not involved. Under the heavy pressure, Alston ended the baseball team and moved the funding toward an education program, which gained him respect in the local community.

The End of the All Stars

Seng was put to death one year after his original execution date. Other players, including Leroy Cooke, Horace Donavan, and William Boyer, were put to death soon after Seng. Ten more players were also executed. Saban, the team captain, managed to escape prison and was never recaptured, the only player who managed to escape the death penalty, The Independent reported.

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