Play (Congressional) Ball!

This is a guest post by Michelle Strizever, photography and digital content specialist in the Office of Art and Archives of the U.S. House of Representatives, and contains information from An Annual Outing: The Congressional Baseball Game.

What began as a casual game among colleagues has evolved into one of Congress’s most anticipated annual pastimes. Each summer, Representatives and Senators don baseball uniforms, organize teams along party lines, and play ball for charity. The Congressional Baseball Game has raised millions of dollars for local charities in the District of Columbia. Spectators include Members, congressional staffers, and, occasionally, U.S. Presidents. More than 100 years later, the Congressional Baseball Game has grown into an institution of its own.

“Nick Altrock entertains. The famous base ball comedian of Washington club eliminating a few ‘Charlie Horses’ among the Republicans by the use of liniment.” Evening Star (Washington, DC), May 27, 1928

 

“REPUBLICANS CAN BEAT ANYONE EXCEPT DEMOCRATS,” Evening Star, May 26, 1951

History
Representative John Tener of Pennsylvania, a former professional baseball player, organized the inaugural baseball game in 1909. The July 17, 1909, Boston Daily Globe observed, “The game had been brewing for weeks and the members of the house were keyed up to a high pitch of enthusiasm. Deep, dark rumors were in circulation that ‘ringers’ would be introduced, but when they lined up at 4 o’clock the nine republicans were stalwart, grand old party men, while the democrats were of the pure Jeffersonian strain.” Democrats drubbed their Republican opponents, 26-16, for the first of six consecutive wins. Republicans won their first match in 1916.

Until the 1960s, the Congressional Baseball Game was played inconsistently—annually, then bi-annually, and in some years not at all. During the late 1930s and early 1940s, Democrats and Republicans teamed up and played against the press corps.

Scenes from the 1950 Congressional Baseball Game. Evening Star, May 20, 1950                 

In a few cases, former professional baseball players were elected to Congress and became stars of the annual competition. Vinegar Bend Mizell of North Carolina, a former professional pitcher, helped the Republican team score victories each year he played. Fielding a once-a-year team presented some problems for Members, whose batting skills often grew rusty between matches. Strong pitching proved decisive in most games, but in 1963, neither team could field a pitcher. As a result, Washington Senators bullpen coach George Susce stepped in to pitch for both teams.

“Mizell’s Pitching Helps GOP Romp,” Washington Post, Times Herald, Jun. 18, 1969, p. D1

Location
The ballgame initially took place at American League Park in northwest Washington, DC, and its successor Griffith Stadium, which was built at the same location. In 1962, the event moved to the new District Stadium (later known as Robert F. Kennedy [RFK] Stadium), where it remained until 1972. For the next two decades, the teams played at the Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland, and Four Mile Run Park in Alexandria, Virginia. In one case, the match relocated to Langley High School in McLean, Virginia. From 1995 to 2004, the Congressional Baseball Game called the new Prince George’s Stadium in Bowie, Maryland, home. In 2005, the event returned to RFK Stadium, where it was held until Nationals Park opened in 2008.

“President and Mrs. Wilson (arrow) watching the congressmen play ball.” The Lake County Times (Hammond, IN), July 7, 1917

“President Coolidge throwing out the first ball,” Evening Star, May 27, 1928

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



First & Notables
First Home Run: Representative Joe O’Connell of Massachusetts hit the first home run in 1909. In the seventh inning, O’Connell knocked a three-run homer out of the park.

Representative O’Connell standing far right. “Democratic congressional baseball team which defeated Republicans,” The Topeka State Journal (Topeka, KS), July 23, 1909

First Umpire: In 1909, Father James Reynolds from New Jersey served as the first umpire. Earlier, Democrats had blocked Republican Speaker Joe Cannon of Illinois from calling the balls and strikes.

First Use of a Pinch Runner: In 1913, Samuel Winslow of Massachusetts (a former college baller) could hit, but not run. Both teams agreed that when he reached base, a House Page could run in his place.

First Woman to Participate: In 1917, Representative Jeannette Rankin of Montana was recruited to keep score along with Joe Cannon.

“CONGRESS ‘BALL’ TODAY,” Washington Post, Jun. 30, 1917, p. 2

Most Runs Scored in an Inning: In the 1928 match, Democrats scored 20 runs in the second inning of the game.

“20 Runs in Single Inning,” Washington Post, May 27, 1928, p. M2

First Known Grand Slam: Representative and future President Gerald Ford of Michigan hit the first known grand slam in the second inning of the 1957 game.

“Democrats Win, 10 to 9,” Washington Post, Jun. 5, 1957, p. C2

First African-American Players: In 1971, the first African-American Members played in the competition. Delegate Walter Fauntroy of the District of Columbia and Representative Ronald Dellums of California joined the Democrats’ roster. Despite Fauntroy’s hitting prowess, the Democrats lost their eighth straight annual game, 7-3.

“Fauntroy Legs Out Triple,” Washington Post, Times Herald, Jul. 16, 1971, p. D2

First Women Players: In 1993, Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, Maria Cantwell of Washington, and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas became the first women to break into the starting lineup

“Congress Play Real Hardball,” Christian Science Monitor (Boston, MA), Aug. 6, 1993, p. 14

First Congressional Softball Game: In 2009, Representatives Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida and Jo Ann Emerson of Missouri organized the first Congressional Women’s Softball Game. Played by a bipartisan group of women Members of the House and Senate against the female press corps, the annual game supports breast cancer charities.

The 2019 Congressional Baseball Game will take place on June 26th at Nationals Park, and the Congressional Women’s Softball Game will occur on June 19th at Watkins Recreation Center in Washington, DC. For more stories, stats, and artifacts from the game, visit An Annual Outing: The Congressional Baseball Game, an online exhibit of the House History, Art & Archives website.

“FIREBALL TECHNIQUE,” Evening Star, May 24, 1951

Discover more:

  • Find more historical newspaper coverage of Congressional Baseball in Chronicling America.
  • Search the Prints & Photographs Division’s online catalog to view images from Congressional Baseball games.

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