Tuesday, April 21, 2015

April 21, 1961: The Cardinals Visit The Rock

   On April 21, 1961, a group of Cardinals visited Alcatraz on their off day in San Francisco. The group included players Stan Musial and Red Schoendienst, along with coaches Howie Pollet, Harry Walker, and Johnny Keane. As the article from the  Sporting News points out the trip brightened the day of many lives that more than likely lacked a lot of bright moments.

     Walker reflected on the trip in Larry Powell's book Bottom of the Ninth: An Oral History on the life of Harry "The Cat" Walker, by saying the group ate with the Warden, then toured the prison, which included visiting the cell that housed the Birdman of Alcatraz. After the tour they were taken to visit with the prisoners, and Walker's description of it was something else. He said that they were taken into a cell block, all the doors were opened, and the prisoners gathered around. "Murderers and all." Some of the prisoners ribbed the players saying that they needed to win, so they could stop losing their cigarettes after betting on the Redbirds, while others offered paintings to the players. For a brief moment in their lives these prisoners may have forgotten where they were as they chatted with the Redbird greats.

     Alcatraz housed more than 1,500 men over a 29 year span. I would imagine that the number of horror stories from the prison far outweigh the number of "feel good" stories such as this one. With that said, these men committed crimes that led to their incarceration and they had to pay a price. I am no one to judge, and I am glad to know that Stan Musial, Red Schoendienst, Howie Pollett, Harry Walker, and Johnny Keane felt the same way. They looked past their past, and brought those prisoners a ray of sunshine on that day in 1961.

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