Image: CA State Library 1913
Folsom State Prison started hosting amateur baseball games around 1913, although prior to this, the inmates participated in ball games during the annual July 4th Folsom Field Day that began in 1904. Amateur teams around California even came by for a game. Every weekend and every holiday the teams played; something the convicts—both players and spectators—looked forward to. Prison staff were also enthusiastic about this entertaining break in monotony. Captain of the Guard, P.J. Cochrane said of Folsom’s team in 1921: “I’d like to put this bunch of rock breakers up against that San Quentin nine. And I don’t think any of them would try to ‘break’ going over and back to do it, either,” he added proudly.
America’s favorite pastime, however, could not go without some underground dealings, especially in prison. Outside the prison walls, the “Black Sox” debacle rocked the baseball world in 1919 and in 1928, Folsom experienced their own scandal. Folsom boasted a four-team league, comprised of the Bon Tons, representing the white collar inmates, The Machine Shop, made up of the athletic roughnecks, The Bakers, and the Chapel, whose players were said to have a “religious bent.”
Despite the prison’s explicit rules against betting, players and spectators wasted no opportunity to wager on their favorite players. Currency came in the form of tobacco which in those days, was rationed out twice a month. It was a hot commodity. A clique of gambling inmates soon became the kingpins by not only fixing certain players, but then selling the winnings to the losing bettors at an exorbitant price. When prison officials caught on, they discovered crooked players on all four teams, “including the supposedly up-righteously Chapel nine,” one newspaper said. The Warden disbanded the teams and officials at San Quentin joked that Folsom’s new teams would be based on its different classes of criminals:
“. . . the forgers will be Short Story Writers teams. The gas pipe thug element will be represented by the Plumbers. Safe crackers, of which there are a large number within Folsom’s confines, have dubbed their team the Bombers. Second story workers, who are to have a representative team, are undecided as yet upon a name. It is said there is divided opinion whether they shall call themselves the Human Flies or the Social Climbers.”