“Their Joy was Unrestricted”

10 Jun

After Charles “Cy” Swain lost his leg in an accident after the 1914 season, he attempted to stay active in baseball by forming a team called the Independents with another former player, Tommy Sheehan.

Cy Swain

Cy Swain

Swain managed the team which was comprised of minor and major leaguers who spent the off-season on the West Coast.

In the early spring of 1916, the team played their most unusual game.  The San Francisco Chronicle described the scene:

“For the first time in the history of the State Prison across the bay in Marin County, the convict baseballers were yesterday permitted to play against an outside team…The attendance? Good!  Something like 2300 men and women prisoners, even including the fellows from solitary confinement, took their seats to watch the game, and their joy was unrestricted.”

Swain’s Independents were playing the Midgets, the baseball team at San Quentin.

The paper said Swain received “an ovation that lasted for five minutes,” and that the prisoners cheered loudly for Ping Bodie, Spider Baum, and Biff Schaller.

Ping Bodie

Ping Bodie

“They know a good play or a bad one, just as you do from your comfy seat at Recreation Park, and they did their rooting accordingly.”

Because of prison rules, the game recap was slightly different than usual:

“Names are barred when it comes to San Quentin inmates, but it is worthy of note that No. 27784 came through with a home run, while third sacker 26130 pulled a fielding stunt that would land him with the Coasters if he were a free agent.

“Warden (James A.) Johnson, however, has his players fully signed, and he is protected with a reserve clause that is far more binding than the foundation of organized baseball. “

Jack McCarthy, a former American League and Pacific Coast League umpire, worked the game with “No. 23547,” and “to their credit be it said, the double system worked perfectly.”

The game was a slugfest, won the Independents 15 to 10—Bodie, Schaller and Ed Hallanan had three hits each.

The Box Score

The Box Score

Swain’s independents returned to the prison again the following year, beating the Mascots 9 to 6.  After the success of those games, baseball against outside teams became a regular feature at San Quentin.

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2 Responses to ““Their Joy was Unrestricted””

  1. Evin Demirel June 10, 2015 at 10:07 am #

    “Names are barred when it comes to San Quentin inmates, but it is worthy of note that No. 27784 came through with a home run, while third sacker 26130 pulled a fielding stunt that would land him with the Coasters if he were a free agent.”

    That’s kind of funny AND sad.

    It’s definitely fascinating – thanks for finding this.
    Do you have a rough idea of how often inmates played in these sort of situations in baseball? Or other sports for that matter?

  2. Evin Demirel June 10, 2015 at 10:19 am #

    Reblogged this on The Sports Seer and commented:
    This is a fascinating post which will make you consider a new definition for “free agent.” It looks at a group of pro baseball players who locked horns with California state prison inmates called “the Midgets.”

    Unfortunately, not many details could be released about who these prisoners were. But we do know prisoners No. 27784 and No. 26130 had some serious skills…

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