Hogan: Baseball within Sing Sing’s prison walls

From SABR member Larry Hogan at The National Pastime Museum on June 23, 2014:

Who goes to Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, New York? And what goes on in that prison? The answers seem obvious. Across the biggest part of the 20th century convicted criminals were sent there—murderers, rapists, thieves, embezzlers, and their kind—the worst of those condemned to die in the notorious “Old Sparky” electric chair that would spark the electrocution, certainly by today’s standards, of staggering numbers sentenced to the ultimate punishment for the crimes they had committed. The prison’s most famous warden, Lewis Lawes, an opponent of the death penalty, presided over 300 such executions in his two decades at Sing Sing’s helm. One doesn’t think of baseball as a vital presence in such a place.

But vital presence it was. Take for one instance an early September afternoon in 1929 when astonished spectators witnessed a sight seen by many a big league fan—but with a stat for the record book that outdid anything ever seen on a big league diamond. On September 5, 1929, “wielding a baseball bat that weighed 43.8 ounces and measured just a quarter inch shy of three feet in length,” the greatest hitter of that day went long in the prison yard—longer in fact than can be believed by the newspaper reports of 620 feet. With a swing of that enormous bat the Bambino from New York took the ball where his inmate opponents would themselves have liked to go—over the prison wall, clear out of the ballpark.

That was a ballpark that the Yankees famous, and now on that September baseball day in that oddest of baseball places, more aptly named than ever Murderers Row, looked out at a left field line that ran along the Hudson River. As Ruth, Gehrig, and crew glanced over the stands between home and third base they peered at a tower manned by a guard with a machine gun. This was Lawes Field, as one wag has put it, “a field of felons.”

Read the full article here: http://www.thenationalpastimemuseum.com/article/baseball-within-prison-walls

Originally published: June 23, 2014. Last Updated: June 23, 2014.