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Read on for the conclusion to this week’s discussion of congressional baseball, adapted from William Stanco’s article in the Winter 2012 edition of The Capitol Dome. And, dare we say, “Go Nats!”

The Congressional Baseball Game: Competition for Charity (Part II)

Attire for the game has been something less than traditional and has changed over the years. In a game in the late 1920s, each player wore a sash on which was written the name of their political party. In 1933, Rep. John D. Clark, from a rural part of New York, participated in the game wearing linen overalls and a farm hat.1 For many years, participants wore uniforms of Washington’s major league team, the Senators. However, in 1972, following the departure of the Senators, the players began the practice of wearing the uniforms of major or minor league teams from their district or state.2Occasionally, the game broke from baseball tradition and included cheerleaders. In 1963, cheerleaders for the Democrats wore a large “D”, while those supporting the Republicans wore pink elephant emblems.

Rep. Nicholas Longworth at bat during a congressional game around 1911 (Library of Congress)

The skill levels of the players in the Congressional Baseball Games varied considerably, with several former major league baseball players participating. John Tener, who started the games, played a total of 75 major league games, from 1885 to 1890. In addition to Tener, two other former major league players participated in games—pitchers Wilmer “Vinegar Bend” Mizell (R–NC) and Hall of Famer Jim Bunning (R–KY). The game had another dominant performer in Steve Largent (R–OK), who played in the NFL for the Seattle Seahawks and pitched in his first Congressional Baseball Game four days after being inducted into the Football Hall of Fame.

For many years the game was essentially an activity for House members. The first Senate participant was Harry Cain (R–WA) in 1950—41 years after the first game. In 1993, the gender barrier was broken when three female House members—Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R–FL), and Blanche Lambert Lincoln (D-AR)—played.3 At least one father–son combination participated in the congressional games: Rep. Mo Udall played for and managed the Democrats several years in the 1960; his son Mark played several games while a member of the House between 1999 and 2007.

Despite the preparation, injuries have occasionally been a price paid by the game’s participants. Edward Vreeland (R–NJ) broke his collarbone while practicing two days before the first game in 1909.4 Lyle Williams (R-OH) broke his leg in the 1984 game and Mike Oxley (R-OH) broke his arm in the 1994 game.5However, injuries did not always prevent a member from participating. In 1968, Silvio Conte (R–MA) hit a double while playing on crutches.

By 1928, Longworth had become Speaker of the House, and his participation in the annual game shifted: here he throws out the first pitch. (Library of Congress)

Interest in participating in the game has grown over the years. In the first game in 1909, Democrats had 11 participants and the Republicans had nine. In 1913, the Republicans had only six players and had to “borrow” three Democrats in order to field a full team. This problem no longer exists. In 2010, twenty-eight Republicans and 32 Democrats were on the rosters. The problem now facing managers is how to get all those interested in playing into the game.

According to information in a Roll Call publication, the GOP leads the series with 38 wins, while the Democrats have 34 wins [36 counting wins in 2011 and 2012] and there has been one tie. Roll Call has awarded a trophy to the team that wins three of five games during each five-year period since they began sponsoring the game in 1962.6 During this time, the Republicans have won the Roll Call Trophy ten times and the Democrats have now won it three times with their win in 2011. Over time, both parties have experienced periods of dominance. The Democrats won the seven games played between 1948 and 1954, while the Republicans won the 11 games from 1964 through 1974.

The game has helped ease political tensions and develop relationships that cross party lines. Speaking on the House floor on May 24, 1948, Rep. James Richards (D–SC) said, in reference to the Congressional Baseball Game, that it “is a fine thing when two great parties of a great Nation, the greatest Nation on the face of the earth, can drop the care and worries of Capitol Hill, forget about the heat and temporary animosities of debate, and go out at night to the baseball field where the great American game is played. It is wonderful to get together and show the people of the United States that regardless of the fact that we sometimes differ on party matters, that after all we love our country and our flag, and that like every boy in America, we love our great national game.”7

Following the 2009 game, Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA) discussed the competitive nature of the event; however, he added that the game provided him an opportunity to develop unique and invaluable friendships with Republicans. Also, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) referred to the game as one of the most bipartisan events on Capitol Hill. He said the game created great camaraderie and relationships with the members of the other party.8

Since 1909, the games have been played for charity.9 For example, in 1917 during WWI, game proceeds went to the Red Cross War Service Fund and in 1933, during the Depression, the funds went to the Community Chest for Relief of the Unemployed. In later years, the beneficiaries included a Summer Camp Fund for needy children, the Washington Literacy Council, Washington Children’s Hospital, and the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Washington. In 2010, the game raised more than $150,000 for charity. Over the years, millions of dollars have been raised for local charities.

Perhaps in some small way we, like the charities, are winners when members of Congress step out of a highly partisan environment and forge friendships and relationships that cross party lines.

1. New York Times, June 11, 1933, p. 26.
2. Washington Post, Aug. 13, 1972, C2 and Roll Call, June 25, 2007.
3. Roll Call, Aug. 5, 1993.
4. New York Times, July 16, 1909, p. 2.
5. Office of History and Preservation, Office of the Clerk, http://clerk.house.gov/art_history/highlights.html?action=view&intID=337, (July 21, 2010) and Roll Call, July 31, 1995 (quiz).
6. Office of History and Preservation, Office of the Clerk, http:clerk.house.gov/art_history/house_history/baseball/index.html.
7. Congressional Record, 80th Cong., May 24, 1948, p. 6353.
8. Roll Call, June 17, 2009.
9. Roll Call, June 25, 2007.