In light of the local team’s playoff appearance, we offer a piece on another DC version of baseball: the Congressional Baseball Game, a now-annual competition that benefits local charities. This article is adapted from William Stanco’s article in The Capitol Dome.
The Congressional Baseball Game: Competition for Charity
In an institution laden with tradition, it should not be a surprise that a baseball game between Republican and Democratic members of Congress, first played in 1909, continues more than 100 years later. Though there have been periods when the Congressional Baseball Game was not played, the competitive tradition has been largely an annual event in the Washington area. For this one night each year, the competition seen in Congress is carried over to a baseball field, but with an unusual level of fellowship. The real winners in these baseball games are the local charities for whom the games are played.
This annual game was initiated at the urging of John Tener, a one-term Republican House member from Pennsylvania, four months after he took office. Prior to becoming a member of the House, Tener played major league baseball.
In the first Congressional Baseball Game, played July 16, 1909, the Democrats prevailed 26 to 16. The game lasted seven innings and included 43 hits and 14 errors. The Democrats refused the offer of having Speaker Joe Cannon, a Republican, umpire the game citing concerns over his objectivity. Instead the assignment went to a New Jersey clergyman and the park groundskeeper. Interestingly, the players in this inaugural game were relatively young, with the average age of the eleven Democrat participants being 36 and the average age of the nine Republican participants being 41. Despite the relative youth of the participants, not everyone was in “playing condition.” After hitting the ball beyond the outfielders for what was described in a newspaper account as a sure home run, Rep. Leonard Howland (R-OH) fell exhausted on second base and called for a replacement to finish the run.
Following the 1909 event, the game was not played, or no information related to the game could be found, for 26 of the next 52 years.1 Since 1962, the game has been sponsored by Roll Call and played annually without interruption.
Occasionally the game came into conflict with the business of the Congress. Prior to the 1914 game, Rep. James Mann (R–IL) unsuccessfully urged that floor debate be limited so that members would be able to get to the congressional baseball game. He added that such an action would be beneficial to local charities.2 However, during that game, to assure the quorum needed to conduct business, Speaker Champ Clark sent deputies from the Sergeant at Arms Office to the game to arrest and return members.3 By the time the deputies, armed with warrants to arrest members, arrived, a rainstorm had passed through stopping the game and making the warrants unnecessary.
In 1933, Speaker Henry T. Rainey sought the return of the players so that they could participate in a roll call and House business could continue. The players continued the game ignoring the Speaker’s scheduled roll call.4 In 2005, with two innings remaining to be played, John Ensign, who was pitching for the Republicans, had to return to the Senate for a vote. John Shimkas, three months after having open heart surgery, came in to pitch in place of Senator Ensign.5 In 2006, the start of game was delayed one hour due to a House vote.6
1. According to the Office of the Clerk of the House of Representatives which has developed extensive information related to the game, no game was played in 1910; no information is available on games between 1920 and 1925; no game was played in 1927 or 1929 through 1931; no information is available on games between 1934 and 1944; and no games were played between 1958 and 1961. From 1946 through 1958, the games were sponsored by the Washington Evening Star.
2. Congressional Record, 51st Cong., Aug. 1, 1914, p. 13123.
3. Washington Post, Aug. 22, 1914, p. 5.
4. New York Times, June 11, 1933, p. 26.
5. Roll Call, June 17, 2009.
6. Roll Call, July 3, 2006.