(Oxford English Dictionary)
Murderers' Row, n.
1. Police and Prison slang. A row of prison cells in which condemned murderers or other violent criminals are held (originally that in the Tombs prison, New York City).
1873 Dark Side N.Y. Life 731 The cells on the second floor contain those charged with murder..and is [sic] therefore called 'Murderers' Row'. 1884 F. TRIPLETT Great Amer. Crimes & Criminals 217 Walworth was committed to a cell in 'Murderers' Row', in the Tombs. 1915 J. LONDON Star Rover 328 The warden with a quart of champagne. I have dispatched it down Murderers' Row. 1993 L. RODRIGUEZ Always Running vii. 162 The deputies threw us into 'murderers row', where hardcore offenders were awaiting trial or serving time.
2. a. Baseball slang. A group of powerful hitters batting in succession for a particular team (most notably the New York Yankees of the 1920s).
E. J. Nichols Baseball Terminol. (1939) refers to an occurrence of the term in 1858 (Spalding Collection, N.Y. Public Library). This occurrence has not been found.
1905 Washington Post 24 Apr. 8/6 Yale's hitting in the last few years has been a cross between a crime and a joke, but this year the cry is loud for hitters and Lush, a member of 'Murderer's Row', as pitchers call the first six batters on the Cleveland list, is there to teach the team the art. 1921 N.Y. Evening Jrnl. 5 Sept. 8/4 The Yankee fan thinks 'Murderers' Row' can annihilate the best pitching in any short series. 1962 R. HOUK & C. DEXTER Ballplayers are Human, Too ix. 188 Here's Johnny Blanchard of our 1961 Murderer's Row. 1994 D. HALBERSTAM October 1964 xiv. 189 That brought up Willie Mays, to be followed by Willie McCovey and Orlando Cepedathe heart of the order, a new black Murderers' Row.
b. In extended use: an elite or notorious group.
1952 San Francisco Chron. 5 Oct. 1/6 [Eisenhower] should be told he has taken under his wing a 'murderers' row' of reactionaries. 1983 N.Y. Times 22 Sept. D 10/3 Coke, Pepsi, Philip Morris and Procter & Gamble. That's a murderer's row in terms of marketing ability. 2000 New Republic 9 Oct. 48/1 Scotland, whose famous thinkers, a murderer's row of philosophers named Hutcheson, Hume, Smith, [etc.]..first set forth a theory of political economy..to link..politics, economics, and human nature.
5 September 1860, New York Times, pg. 8:
In a line with, "murderers' row," which contains the portraits of STEPHENS, STRAUB, MRS. HARTUNG, and others, is the likeness of quite a good looking youth, No. 468, known as the "Goat Boy."
18 June 1866, New York TImes, pg. 8:
It appears that he had these luxuries furnished to him when he was in a cell on the first tier, but since he was brought down to "Murderers'-row" he has been deniedthese articles.
11 March 1871, New York Herald, pg. 4, col. 2:
At the back of the door cell No. 3 in murderers' row, in a low chair, is seated a little girl of twelve to thirteen years of age.
17 July 1871, Titusville (PA) Morning Herald, pg. 2, col. 2:
New York News.
He has been moved from the cell in Murderer's Row.
6 November 1872, New York Herald, pg. 4, col. 3:
One of the principal points of interest was a polling place in Houston street (First district), a block or two from the celebrated "Murderer's row."
23 January 1873, Morning Oregonian (Portland, OR), pg. 4, col. 2
The cell is on Murderer's Row, on the ground floor, and the last who inhabited it was Foster, who was placed in another cell since he succeeded in getting his stay of proceedings.
(From the New York Herald of January 6th - ed.)
8 May 1918, Coshocton (Ohio) Tribune, pg. 8:
New York fans have come to know a section of the Yankees' batting order as "murderers' row." It is composed of the first six players in the batting order -- Gilhooley, Peckinpaugh, Baker, Pratt, Pipp, and Bodie. This sextet has been hammering the offerings of all comers.
(The story is by the International News Service -- ed.)
21 June 1918, Washington Post, pg. 8:
"Murderers' Row," as the sluggers of the Yankees have come to be known this season, held no terrors for the Hackensack beauty.
(This article was written by J. V. Fitz Gerald, brother of John J. Fitz Gerald - ed.)
24 May 1919, Evening State Journal (Lincoln, NEB), pg. 7, col. 1:
Aside from Baker the Yanks' murderers row was helpless and he shut out Huggins' men.
3 September 1920, Daily Northwestern (Oshkosh, WI), pg. 11, col. 5:
The Yankees, however, with "murderer's row" functioning, can overturn a lot of things and dope may be one of them.
5 May 1927, Lima (Ohio) News, pg. 18, col. 6:
Besides the mighty "Babe" the New York club will carry its regular lineup including Combs, Koenig, Lazzeri, Gehrig, Meusel, Dugan and the rest of "Murderer's Row."