hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


News October 2019


In prison baseball, a home-field disadvantage

Maury Thompson


The Prison Nine baseball team of Great Meadow prison in Comstock, N.Y., had a high turnover of players and always was the home team, even when playing against “the locals.”

“Although some of last year’s prison team have left the confines of Great Meadow, it is reported that an excellent team has already been welded together, and the locals are expected to have a hard time in annexing the victory,” The Post-Star reported on May 19, 1920.

The team opened its 1920 season on May 22 against the Fulton Shirt Co. team, which also played under the name St. Alphonsus Club in the Glens Falls Fraternal League. Veteran pitcher Eddie St. Clair was on the mound for the visiting team.

“A large number of employees of the local company are planning on making the trip with their baseball representatives, and cars will be furnished by the company for the trip to the Washington County battleground,” the newspaper reported.

Although the prison team was the home team, it didn’t exactly enjoy a home-field advantage, as the visiting teams typically brought along a large hometown cheering section.

“The trip will be made by automobile, and a number of Hudson Falls supporters of the club will accompany the players,” The Post-Star reported July 14, 1920, about an upcoming game between The Prison Nine and Donnelly’s Stars.

It may seem unimaginable today, but nearly a century ago, the “outsiders” – those who lived outside the walls of what’s now a maximum-security prison -- acted as though they thought of the prison inmates as wayward neighbors rather than fearsome criminals. It was a different era, and area residents would visit the prison en masse for sports and entertainment events.

More often than not, grit and determination overcame the enthusiasm of the visiting crowds, and the inmates won.

But that wasn’t the case with 1920 season opener. The Fultons won, 4-1.
“Both teams were weak with the stick, each aggregation securing but five hits,” The Post-Star reported. “In field play, however, the locals far exceeded their adversaries, the prison team making nine misplays.”

The Fultons achieved three stolen bases. The inmates, perhaps ironically, only managed to steal one.

The weekly games on Saturday afternoons, played through late October, were covered in The Post-Star as routinely as any other sporting event.

On July 24, 1920, previewing a game that afternoon against Imperial Wallpaper Co., the newspaper reported, “The Comstock ball tossers have lost but two games this season and are anxious to give the locals a drubbing.”

Later, on Aug. 23: “In a slow but interesting baseball battle, the team representing Great Meadow prison won a 7-to-6 victory over the Kurzrok team,” which was named for a local garment factory.
The 1920 season included a fund-raising game against Glens Falls Knights of Columbus to benefit construction of a rectory at Fort Ann Roman Catholic Church for the Rev. Daniel R. Burns, the prison chaplain.

There was a game on Memorial Day, in addition to the regularly scheduled Saturday game that weekend, and a double-header on Independence Day, with Great Meadow defeating Fort Ann 11-1 in the morning and defeating Morrison Brush Co. 4-3 in the afternoon.


Entertainment destination
Baseball was not the only activity that brought local residents together with the prison inmates, according to Post-Star stories of the era.

About 200 invited guests from the community joined about 500 inmates in May 1920 for a banquet with speeches, musical entertainment and boxing matches.

Entertainers included Stephen Harrington, a lyric tenor from Troy, the Stephen and Catherine Burke singing and dance duo, and dramatist Marian Dudley.

“Her songs, set off with clothes and actions representing the different nations, took the audience completely by storm, and she was called back for encore after encore,” the newspaper reported on May 27, 1920.

The Daughters of Isabella Lady Minstrels of Glens Falls performed a vaudeville show at the prison on June 14 and returned for a second performance and banquet on June 24.
“The menu served would have done credit to any banquet table in the fashionable hotels of New York City, and to see those 50 ladies and guests sitting at the beautifully decorated tables with a similar number of inmates of Great Meadow would have been a revelation to most ‘outsiders,’” an inmate wrote in a review published June 26, 1920.

The performance inspired inmates to organize their own “monster minstrel, dramatic and vaudeville” show, which they performed Sept. 15, 1920 for “outsiders” who purchased 50-cent tickets to benefit the inmate sports and activity fund. A dress rehearsal for inmates was performed on Sept. 14.

About 65 inmates rehearsed for two months under the direction of Francis C. Lambert of Glens Falls.

The Delaware & Hudson Railroad ran a special train from Glens Falls to Comstock and back on the evening of the show, with stops at Hudson Falls, Fort Edward, Smiths Basin and Fort Ann.
“The show given at Great Meadow prison of Comstock last evening for the benefit of ‘outsiders’ proved as big a success as any of the road shows ever shown in this vicinity, for not only the throngs that were present but for also the ability of the men being able to act,” The Post-Star reported on Sept. 16.


Maury Thompson was a reporter for The Post-Star of Glens Falls for 21 years before retiring in 2017. He now is a freelance writer focusing on the history of politics, labor and media in the region.