Take Me Out to the Ballgame

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

Lee St. John, a member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, is a #1 Amazon ranked humorous author. Look for her on Facebook, Twitter (@LeeStJohnauthor), and on her blog at www.leestjohnauthor.com.

Baseball is all around us and the temps are cooperating. But here comes the pollen. Still, Spring has sprung and that means America’s past time is “at bat.”
Some may argue that today football, not baseball, is America’s National Pastime. But in the first half of the 20th century, there was no question that baseball was America’s sport. I am proud as punch to say my father was an outstanding baseball player in college at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta. He also played for the Chicago Cubs organization. Before all this, he played on a high school traveling team in 1932, when this story takes place.
His team played anybody that would host them. And in the late spring of 1932 they were in Atlanta playing some of the guards at the Atlanta Penitentiary while a few inmates were allowed to watch. There was one game when my dad, a left-handed pitcher, played in the outfield. While playing center field, he kept stepping farther and farther into the back-field. Just a little at a time so as to not draw attention doing so. He kept inching back because he saw two men sitting on some bleachers and he wanted to ask them a question. He had heard there was a certain high-profile inmate in the Atlanta Pen and he wanted to find out if it was true. So, little by little meandering towards the bleachers, he got close enough to turn around and ask if this infamous person was indeed incarcerated there.
He circled around to ask quickly as he didn’t want it to seem he was not paying attention to the game and his position. Was this American gangster, boss of the Chicago Outfit and famous Prohibition era bada** really there? Was this crime boss whose seven-year reign of smuggling and bootlegging liquor in the building? Was this man who was in a league of his own terrorizing Chicago during Prohibition in the 1920’s and who was convicted of tax evasion in 1931 now an inmate in Atlanta’s prison?
This gangster was sent to the Atlanta U.S. Penitentiary in May 1932. At 250 pounds he was officially diagnosed with syphilis and gonorrhea. He suffered from withdrawal symptoms from cocaine addiction which the use of had perforated his septum. He was competent at his prison job of stitching the soles on shoes for eight hours a day, yet he was barely coherent when writing his letters. At the Atlanta Pen he was seen as a weak personality and was just not the mobster from which his legend was made. He was so out of his depth dealing with the bullying fellow inmates inflicted that his cellmate feared that this thug would have a nervous breakdown. When Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary opened, he was moved there.
So, Daddy was curious. Was he still there? Backing his way to the bleachers, he was close enough now to turn around to ask the two men sitting there watching the game if Alphonse Gabriel “Al” Capone was in the Atlanta Penitentiary?
One of the two answered, “He sure is, and he’s sitting right here next to me.”