It’s not often that a national book launch takes place at a baseball stadium, but one is coming to Raley Field.
Grass Valley nonfiction Western writer Chris Enss and co-author Howard Kazanjian tell a remarkable, little-known and scandalous story in “Death Row All Stars: A Story of Baseball, Corruption, and Murder” (Globe Pequot, $17, 176 pages). The two will be at Raley Field for a meet ’n’ greet and book-signing from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. Saturday, before the Sacramento River Cats take on the Reno Aces at 7:05 p.m.
In the early 1900s, in the Golden Age of Baseball, the death-row inmates at Wyoming State Penitentiary had formed a team known as the Death Row All Stars. And they were very, very good – and notorious. So notorious that other baseball teams from around California, Nevada, Oregon and other Western states lined up to play them on the penitentiary grounds.
From opposing teams’ viewpoints, playing the Death Row All Stars was a somewhat twisted, once-in-a-lifetime novelty. For the All Stars themselves ... well, they believed they would be granted reprieves from their death sentences if they kept smoking the competition. Which was motive enough.
“The idea of literally playing for time was a great incentive for them to be good, and they were one of the best baseball teams in the West,” said Enss. “They played for only one season and were unbeaten, and a lot of people won a lot of money betting on them.”
The first incarnation of “Death Row All Stars” was published in 2004 as “Playing for Time,” but was not distributed, Enss said. Its publisher pulled it back to avoid conflict with another baseball book it was publishing at the same time. Years later, Enss teamed with longtime writing partner Kazanjian to write an expanded version. “The new book has much more information,” she said.
The Death Row All Stars’ brief reign ended as their execution dates began coming up. The first among them to be led to the gallows was their most valuable player, third baseman Joseph Seng.
“He was a powerful batter, as well, and would eat zinger after zinger,” Enss said.