Baseball on the Rock

Inmates playing softball in the Alcatraz recreation yard.
The Alcatraz recreation yard during a game of softball.

National Archives and Records Administration

On Alcatraz, baseball was popular talk amongst the inmates, but softball is what they played. Inmates were allowed two hours of yard time each Saturday and Sunday. Softball was played on a small patch of lawn--a landscape completely unnatural to Alcatraz. There were no team uniforms, but gloves, bats, and balls were provided. Innings were shorter and balls hit over the wall were considered outs, not home-runs. Inmates organized teams themselves. In 1938 there were four amateur and league teams.

Amateurs played a more intramural game and the league teams were more competitive. The amateur teams were named after four minor league squads of the era: Bees, Oaks, Oilers, and Seals. The four league teams bore the names of major league clubs: Cardinals, Cubs, Giants, and Tigers. In later years, the number of teams and style of play changed. Some inmates, like bank robber and kidnapper Volney Davis, actually played for both amateur and league teams. In 1938, Davis was the Oilers pitching ace. He appeared in 18 games and went 11-7. He also batted .327 and scored 15 runs. His production slipped while on the Cubs though, batting .181 with seven RBI’s in 83 at-bats. Perhaps the best batter in the league that year was Lorenzo Murrietta. Murrietta was serving 40 years for assault and theft. He batted .402 with nine home-runs and 45 RBI’s for the Cardinals. His teammate William Lucas was an all-around threat. Lucas had a .299 average with 27 RBI’s and 38 runs scored. He also had 11 steals and posted an amazing 225 putouts. Despite society’s segregation, the teams were integrated. Murrietta was white, Lucas was black. Both inmates helped the Cardinals to a .778 winning percentage, the best in the league.

And just like the outside world, tensions arose: During one game, a fistfight broke out between Volney Davis and another inmate. Many other skirmishes are lost to history.

On May 20, 1956, a race riot nearly erupted amid a softball game. A white inmate made derogatory remarks toward a black inmate. Both men pulled shivs and a fight ensued. Other inmates on the yard brandished weapons and chose sides based on race. The guards were able to quell the commotion before serious injuries occurred.

Professional players would occasionally visit the island, such as Warren Spahn and Stan Musial.

On October 4, 1955, radio jacks were installed in the cells. Inmates were given the day off and able to listen to Game 7 of the World Series on headphones. Cheers echoed throughout the cellhouse as nearly 300 inmates heard the Brooklyn Dodgers shut out the New York Yankees 2-0 and win their first championship. The World Series proved to be a moment of joy in a place that was supposed to be devoid of it. Baseball allowed inmates to mentally escape their confinement and experience a brief moment of freedom.

Last updated: August 30, 2019

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