Baseball at Alcatraz

Alcatraz Island (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic)

Most folks have heard of Alcatraz, the island just 1.25 miles off the shore from San Francisco, California. Even more infamous than the island itself was Alcatraz prison, a federal penitentiary that operated from 1934 to 1963. The prison was known for its high security and harsh conditions, as well as for housing some of the most notorious criminals in American history, such as Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, and Robert “Birdman of Alcatraz” Stroud.

Alcatraz prison was originally a military fortification and prison, dating back to the 1850s. It was designated as a federal prison in 1933, as part of a nationwide campaign to combat organized crime and gang violence. The prison was designed to hold the most dangerous and escape-prone inmates, who were transferred to Alcatraz from other federal prisons across the country. The inmates were subjected to strict rules and regulations, such as silence during meals and work, isolation from the outside world, and limited recreation and privileges. The prison also employed myriad security measures, such as guard towers, metal detectors, barred windows, and a 12-foot-high fence. On top of all this, the strong currents of the bay waters surrounding the island and frigid water temperatures made escape nearly impossible.

Baseball and softball proved to be popular sports among the inmates of Alcatraz prison, who were allowed two hours each Saturday and Sunday in the recreation yard. There were no team uniforms, but gloves, bats, and balls were provided. In 1938, there were four amateur teams, the Bees, Oaks, Oilers, and Seals, named after minor league clubs, and four league teams named after major league clubs, the Cardinals, Cubs, Giants, and Tigers. Amateur teams featured a more intramural style of play, whereas league games were more intensely competitive. Some inmates would play for both an amateur team and a league team.

The infield featured a dirt diamond while the outfield was concrete and did not have standard dimensions. Innings within games were shorter and balls hit over the wall were considered outs, not home-runs. The games themselves proved highly competitive and sometimes violent, as tensions and rivalries flared among the prisoners. On May 20, 1956, for example, a riot broke out over racial taunts on the diamond between a white and black prisoner during a softball match.

Baseball also provided a rare opportunity for the inmates to enjoy some entertainment and relaxation, as they listened to radio broadcasts of professional games or received visits from famous players. Players who visited the prison included Warren Spahn, Stan Musial, and Joe DiMaggio. 

On October 4, 1955, radio jacks were installed in the cells. Inmates were given the day off and were permitted to listen to Game 7 of the World Series on headphones. Cheers echoed throughout the cellhouse as inmates heard the Brooklyn Dodgers shut out the New York Yankees, 2-0, to win their first championship. 

Organized baseball games ceased in the recreation yard when the federal prison closed in 1963.

Recreation yard and dining hall of the former Alcatraz prison in San Francisco.
Recreation yard and dining hall of the former Alcatraz prison in San Francisco (Radomianin / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0)

“Fan Valentines,” by Lillian Morrison

This piece by Lillian Morrison is short and sweet, and, at first, I admittedly found it confusing. Each line reads like something you’d find printed on an elementary school valentine, which I later realized might be intentional. In the 1960s, Morrison published a book titled Yours Till Niagara Falls: A Book of Autograph Verses, an anthology of poetry intended for children.


Yours till the pinch hits
Yours till the 7th inning stretches
Yours till pennant races
Yours till pop flies
Yours till the home runs
Yours till the line drives
Yours till the double plays
Yours till batters box

Quote of the day

It was not long before I was struck with the idea that base ball was just the game for a national sport for Americans.

~Henry Chadwick

Henry Chadwick (New York Public Library / public domain)

The Ball State University Singers perform “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”

I love this arrangement of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” performed by The Ball State University Singers. Apparently this was recorded thirteen years ago, but the video has only been viewed a little over 1100 times, and I feel this deserves to be higher. It’s a bit showtune-ish, but it’s a fun arrangement, and they even sing the full 1908 version, not just the bit we hear at the ballpark.

The Rookie (2002)

The Rookie movie

Not to be confused with the television series bearing the same name, The Rookie is a film that had been on my to-watch list for a while. It is a story based on the real-life story of Jim Morris who made his Major League debut at age 35. 

The movie begins when Jim Morris is a teenager. Jim’s father serves in the Navy and he moves the family throughout the country, all the while disapproving of his son’s dream of playing Major League Baseball. When the family moves to Big Lake, Texas, Jim is crushed to learn that the town cares nothing for baseball, preferring football instead, and he thus loses out on the opportunity to play high school ball.

Jim does get a chance to continue playing ball when he is drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers. However, a shoulder injury put an end to his dream of making it to the big leagues.

Fast forward a number of years later, and Jim is married with three young children. He still lives in Big Lake, teaching high school science and coaching the high school baseball team, the Owls (a team that, I imagine, he started up himself). The Owls aren’t having a great season, however, largely due to in part to the team’s low morale resulting from little support from the community.

One day after practice, the team catcher offers to play catch with Jim. The catcher is stunned to discover that Jim can still fire an impressive fastball, and it is not long before the rest of the team is let in on the secret. The Owls believe that Jim could possibly pitch in the major leagues and offer him a deal: if the Owls can win district and make the state playoffs, Jim will try out again. Desperate to motivate the team into winning, Jim accepts the deal.

The Owls do end up winning district, and holding up his end of the bargain, Jim shows up to a tryout with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The scouts discover that Jim is able to consistently throw a baseball at 98 mph, and Jim is told that he could be signed to a minor league deal. After much deliberation and discussion with his wife, Jim decides to go, and he is assigned to the minor league Class AA Orlando Rays.

Jim moves through the minors quickly, first getting moved to the Class AAA Durham Bulls, and then finally, he is called up to the majors with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Coincidentally, the Devil Rays are in Arlington, Texas to play the Rangers at the time Jim gets the call, and he calls his family to let them know the good news. Not only does Jim’s family show up for the game, but the players of the high school Owls team rally much of the town to attend the game, as well. Late in the game, with Tampa Bay losing badly, Jim is called in to pitch to Royce Clayton and end the inning. Jim gets a strikeout against Clayton on three straight fastballs. During postgame interviews, Jim notices his father had also come to the game. Jim’s father admits how special it was to be able to see his son play in the majors and apologizes for not supporting Jim before.

I really enjoyed this film. I love that it is based on a true story (I feel a need to do more reading up on Jim Morris now), and I love how it portrays the conflict between pursuing your dreams and trying to be a responsible adult. Definitely a worthwhile family film.