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Episode 103: "Blackie Schwamb: The Greatest Prison Baseball Player of All Time"
Airdate: April 26, 2008 - FSN

Ralph "Blackie" Schwamb tried to have it all. He was a talented baseball pitcher in the mid-1940's, but his mob ties and problems with alcohol derailed a once promising career. Mesmerized by the local Los Angeles gangster scene, Blackie quickly became associated with the infamous Mickey Cohen and his gang. Blackie used his lean 6'5 frame as a selling point and was quickly hired to provide "muscle" for the gangsters to collect debts for bookies and loan sharks. But Blackie’s physical attributes were not only good for protecting and securing the property of organized crime, since Blackie was also a promising baseball talent. One day, while watching a semi-pro team affiliated with the St. Louis Browns, Blackie is downing some beers and starts heckling the players on the field. A scout tells Blackie to “shut up or show ‘em”, and does he ever. Eleven strikeouts later, he had everybody’s attention and within a few months, Blackie had a contract with the team. Blackie now has two jobs: one as a pitcher and another as a gangster.

Two years later, after bouncing and drinking his way through the minors, Blackie was finally invited to the St. Louis Brown's major league camp and is promptly tabbed the most promising rookie pitcher. A few months later, Blackie defeats the Washington Senators to nab his first major league win. But that feat was short-lived, as Blackie’s penchant for drinking and bar-hopping resulted in a suspension. Unable to choose between his budding baseball career and his ties to organized crime, Blackie’s life becomes more complicated and his drinking only gets worse. And then, at the age of 22, the rising star pitcher for the St. Louis Browns is brought back down to Earth.

After a long night of drinking in a local Los Angeles bar, Blackie finds himself involved in a plan to score some quick cash by hitting up a doctor who is hanging out with two of his friends. Unfortunately, the plan goes awry and later that night after a scuffle, the doctor is found dead on the pavement…Two months later, Blackie is convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Blackie left his wife and son behind and finds himself transferred to the infamous San Quentin prison in January 1950. Feeling his life has hit an all time low, Blackie finds himself involved in regular fights amongst the inmates and is often sent to solitary confinement. Blackie seeks an outlet for his situation and finds it in a familiar place: the baseball diamond. Blackie becomes a part of the prison’s baseball team, the San Quentin All-Stars, whose only “fans” are the sharpshooters patrolling center field. Since Blackie had a history tied to the mob and gambling, bookies on the inside tried to get him to “throw” games for them. But baseball had taken on a new meaning for Blackie, and despite numerous threats to his life, he refused to be intimidated. Through his pitching and involvement with the team, Blackie is able to prove not only to the other inmates but to himself what a great pitcher he truly was.

Blackie was so renowned for his pitching skills, he had a 100 mph fastball and nasty curveball, that scouts came from around the country to match hitting prospects against him. And major and minor League players regularly came to San Quentin and Folsom prisons to get a chance to play against the legendary prison pitcher. In one game, Blackie pitches against a team with five major leaguers, and throws a perfect game. During his ten-year stint behind bars at San Quentin Prison, Folsom Prison, and Tehachapi, Blackie wins 70 games and records 720 strikeouts. Without his regular drinking routine and mobster distractions, Blackie was able to create a legend and emerge as the greatest prison baseball player of all-time.

After completing his sentence in 1960, Blackie makes a desperate attempt to resuscitate his baseball career and get back to the big leagues. But Blackie’s difficult past and ex-convict status left teams unwilling to take a chance on him. He ends up pitching one game in triple A and then realizes that he’ll never make it back to the majors. He once told a friend, “You know…I really could have been something”. And he could have, if it wasn’t for one person always holding him back: Blackie himself.

Copyright © 2008 Nash Entertainment. All Rights Reserved.