In 1911, an unlikely baseball team took the field at the Wyoming State Penitentiary – a team comprised entirely of inmates sentenced to death for violent crimes. Led by star player and convicted murderer Joseph Seng, the prison’s baseball team quickly became a fleeting sensation.
The “Death Row All Stars,” as they were known, were thrust into competition by the warden, Felix Alston, as part of his new reform initiatives. Their opponent in all four games was a strong local team, the Wyoming Supply Company Juniors. Against all odds, the All Stars dominated, winning each game decisively.
Yet there was a dark underbelly to the team’s success. The prisoners were conscripted into playing by the team captain George Saban, himself a convicted murderer. He was allowed to come and go freely from the prison to place bets on the games, taking a cut of the winnings. Saban told the players that wins would reduce their sentences, while costly mistakes would lead to “death.”
This kept the dangerous inmates highly motivated. Star player Seng meanwhile awaited the outcome of his final appeal against execution. His death sentence was temporarily postponed, seemingly so he could continue playing.
The All Stars generated sensational newspaper coverage nationwide. But this risky set-up of convicted murderers and high-stakes gambling also attracted increased scrutiny from the governor and others. Within a year, the team was disbanded. Saban’s gambling schemes were shut down and the prison moved to institute more humane educational programs instead.
The Death Row All Stars soon faded into obscurity. After a final execution reprieve, star player Seng was hanged in 1912. The team he led had shone briefly, harnessing the inmates’ baseball talents in exploitative fashion before the corrupt enterprise collapsed entirely.