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Death Row All Stars: A Story of Baseball, Corruption, and Murder.
Every day Joseph Seng took his usual position beside the guard’s desk in the mess hall and studied the inmates as they entered the room. Perhaps this was his way of fighting the monotony and routine of daily prison life. Maybe Seng was trying to assert himself as someone not to be trifled with, or maybe he had no agenda whatsoever. Some convicts believed he was a threat to the position they perceived to hold in the hierarchy of prisoners. Seng didn’t worry about what anyone thought of him. He maintained his spot by the desk regardless of the occasional disapproving glance.
In early August 1911 a particularly disagreeable inmate tired of Seng’s habit and decided to kill him. The displeased man who wanted Joseph dead wore a ball-and-chain restraint that clanged behind him as he shuffled along. His arms were generally full of the ten-pound ball attached to the iron links. His heavily bearded face was weathered, and his mouth was set in a perpetual snarl that looked inexpressively evil. He gave Seng a rough look as he passed by him and hauled himself and his ball and chain up a flight of steel stairs.
Once the violent inmate made it to the second landing of the facility, he stopped to look out over the people below, his face “filled with rage,” according to a story provided by an inmate and included in the Annals of Wyoming. “His cell was back at the farthest end of the top gallery,” the prisoner recalled. “At the top of the stairs there was a small box of sand about half full for a sort of trash receptacle. The box was about ten inches wide and probably two feet in length. The fellow set the iron ball on the floor of the gallery and picked up a box of sand. He raised it above his head and dropped it straight down at the head of Seng, twenty-five feet almost directly below.
“As the leaden box went down Seng partly turned to speak to the guard and the box struck the floor with a crash like the report of a gun and burst straight through the center sending sand in all directions. If Seng hadn’t turned just as he did it would have landed on his head. The fellow picked up the iron ball and went down the gallery to his cell. He had sawed the rivet in two that held the iron on his ankle and as he opened the door he loosened the thing from his leg and threw the ball and chain over the gallery. It struck the table and went straight through the floor leaving a six-foot length of board standing straight up in the center of the table.”
Although Seng was shaken by the attempt made on his life, it didn’t carry over to his performance on the baseball field. The Death Row All Stars were scheduled to cross bats for a second time with the Wyoming Supply Company Juniors on August 4, 1911. The prison team practiced often in July in preparation for the event.
Even in practices, the Death Row All Stars played with gusto and even temperament. They worked together as one cohesive unit and made the sport look like the easiest game in the world. They seemed to cherish the smell of the leather glove, the snap of the ball smacking their palms, the sensation of letting loose a throw and kicking up a cloud of dust. These were deep pleasures in a world that didn’t offer many happy moments, and they relished this one.
To learn more about the inmates who played baseball for their lives read the
Death Row All Stars: The Story of Baseball, Corruption, and Murder.