• Baseball was played at the infamous Alcatraz Prison.

  • Prisoners organized themselves into teams and played in two leagues.

  • The games were occasionally rough, and one even saw a riot

The infamous Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary has stood sentinel in the San Francisco Bay since the mid-1800s. After its original use as a Civil War fort and installation, the "Rock" was converted into the notorious federal penitentiary in 1934.

The baseball field at Alcatraz Canva//NPS
The baseball field at Alcatraz

Alcatraz, Home to Criminals and Ball Players

During its time as a prison, the "Rock" housed some of the most infamous inmates in United States crime history. Among the famed guests of the "iron bar hotel" were Al Capone, "Whitey" Bulger, George "Machine Gun" Kelly, and the "Birdman of Alcatraz," Robert Stroud. Despite the who's who of criminals, Alcatraz also became a home to America's pastime.

Baseball was popular among the inmates, but it was softball that was played on the island. Inmates were allowed two hours of yard time each Saturday and Sunday, during which softball games were played on a small patch of lawn in the yard.


"Big House Rules"

In the games, the teams were organized by the prisoners, and although they had no uniforms, bats and balls were provided. Innings were shorter, and balls hit over the walls were considered outs instead of home runs.

"MABL: The Major Alcatraz Baseball League"

In 1938, there were four amateur and league teams. Amateurs played a more intramural game, while the league teams were more competitive. Based on skill and seriousness, the league was split into two levels, the minor and major leagues. The amateur teams adopted the names of four minor league squads of the era: Bees, Oaks, Oilers, and Seals. The four upper league teams bore the names of major league clubs: Cardinals, Cubs, Giants, and Tigers.

The Baseball Games at Alcatraz were a "Riot"

The games inside the prison walls were tense at times. During one game, a fistfight broke out between two inmates, and other scuffles occurred.

On May 20, 1956, a race riot nearly erupted during a game. A white inmate made derogatory remarks toward a black inmate, resulting in both men pulling shanks and a fight ensuing. Other inmates in the yard brandished weapons and chose sides based on race. Guards were able to quell the commotion before serious injuries occurred.

Pro Baseball Comes to Alcatraz

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

In October 1955, radio jacks were installed in the cells. Inmates were given the day off and allowed 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 and win their first championship. The World Series proved to be a moment of happiness in a place that was supposed to be devoid of it. Baseball allowed inmates to mentally escape the "Rock" and experience a brief moment of freedom.

More From 610 KONA