Three Strikes and You're In It's no great leap from the big house to the big leagues. And vice versa.

May 19, 2002

If it seems that everyone and his agent is in prison today, they
are. Darryl Strawberry, Jim Brown, Dexter Manley, Nate Newton,
Willie Mays Aikens, Rae Carruth, Denny McLain and agent Tank
Black are just a few of our pros who are cons. And Mike Tyson
recently said that he wouldn't mind being a guest of the state
again. "I like prison now," said Tyson.

So, evidently, does Lakers forward Rick Fox, who plays a convict
on Oz. And so does every cornrowed athlete whose 'do-rag, giant
jeans and neck tattoos have made pop culture of prison culture.

But if our athletes are aspiring prisoners, we should expect our
prisoners to be aspiring athletes. Thus last Thursday night
baseball's San Quentin Giants, who have never played an away
game, hosted the semipro Novato (Calif.) Knicks inside
California's notorious San Quentin State Prison, a.k.a. Unsafeco

The Knicks' minimal traveling party of nine--"Half our roster
wouldn't make the trip," says their general manager and
Thursday's starting pitcher, Chris Kenyon--endured background
checks, wandings, friskings and three separate security gates
before guards briskly went over the ground rules, which consisted
of just one: "We will not negotiate for you in the event of a
hostage crisis. Do you understand?" This is San Quentin for "Play

The Giants wore, as always, their home blacks. The team changed
its name from the Pirates when San Francisco Giants equipment
manager Mike Murphy donated a few of his team's old spring
training uniforms to the prison. (Alas, the names on the backs
have been replaced with the letters SQ; thus no one will ever get
to bail Bonds.)

On Thursday, as Kenyon, 36, was taking his warmup tosses, an
alarm was sounded over the prison P.A. system, and all inmates,
including the Giants, crouched on the ground and froze, per
protocol, until the all-clear. Kenyon kept pitching, unfazed.
"I've played at San Quentin the day after an execution, when it
was silent," he says. "So this was nothing."

Prison ball presents pressures unknown to Randy Johnson. Knick
Kevin Wolfe was pitching against the Vacaville (Calif.) State
Prison team in 1984 when he heard a guard yell, "Hey, Charlie,
get off the field!" The diamond invader obeyed, but still: When
Charles Manson is your Morganna, it gives a pitcher pause.

Could Pedro Martinez beat a Murderers' Row of real murderers?
Could Curt Schilling get three strikes off a Giant who was made a
Giant by California's three-strikes law? Would Roger Clemens
stare down a lifer waving an aluminum bat 60 feet, six inches
away? "Never thought of it this way," says Kenyon, laughing

And don't expect the calls to go your way. At every Giants game
the four umpires are inmates. There is very little Earl
Weavering of these men in blue jumpsuits. Don't like the strike
zone? "Let it go," opponents advise.

The crowd consists of roughly 400 inmates who are better behaved
than most Yankees fans. Unable to travel, the Giants themselves
are "always glad to see us," says Kenyon, whose team plays at San
Quentin twice a year. "They're very good-natured. At the same
time, you know they're in for a reason, and that means anything
from murder to drugs."

The Knicks have never lost to the Giants. But on Thursday, Kenyon
was touched for five runs in the fifth inning. After he was
relieved, he went to rightfield--you don't want to get sent to the
showers here. The Knicks failed to rally, and the game was still
tied 7-7 when it was called for darkness. The only lights at
Unsafeco are searchlights.

It's just as well. "We tell ourselves it's not important if we
win or lose," says Kenyon. "The important thing is that we're

As for those who can't leave, they might console themselves with
the thought that it's no great leap from the big house to the
big leagues. And vice versa. In both places you'll get a
numbered uniform and try to go yard and maybe--just maybe--room
with Pete Rose. Ron LeFlore was discovered by Billy Martin at
Jackson State Prison in Michigan while doing a five-to-15
stretch for armed robbery and went on to play nine years in the
majors. Indeed, many of our better ballplayers have done (or are
doing) time, among them Rose, McLain, Strawberry, Aikens, Willie
Wilson, Orlando Cepeda, Vida Blue, "Blue Moon" Odom....

"John D'Acquisto?" says Kenyon, naming a San Francisco Giants
pitcher of the '70s.

"You mean John Montefusco," I reply, naming another San Francisco
Giants pitcher of the '70s.

Turns out we're both right: Montefusco served two years at
Monmouth County (N.J.) Correctional Institute while awaiting
trial on 20 felony counts, including assault and kidnapping
charges. (He was acquitted.) His teammate, D'Acquisto, is serving
a 55-month sentence at a federal prison in Florence, Colo., for
defrauding investors of nearly $7 million, money he used to buy
luxury cars, racehorses and an interest in a Mexican baseball

Be nice to see him in a Giants uniform again, wouldn't it?


Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)