The Congressional Baseball Game is a long-standing, little-known tradition for most of the nation. At least it was until Tuesday, when James Hodgkinson opened fire on a group of congressional Republicans practicing for the big game. Now the June 15th, 2017 contest will be the most remembered ever.
The game was first organized in 1909 by Rep. John Tener, R-Penn. It makes sense he’d do it, as he’d been a professional baseball player for the Baltimore Orioles, the Chicago White Stockings, now the Chicago Cubs, and the short-lived Pittsburgh Burghers in the late 1800s, just before baseball’s modern era.
The first game took place in American League Park II, home of the Washington Senators. (The Senators were generally a hapless team in their 60-year existence. As the line went—Washington: First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League.) The two sides in the inaugural game were, and have been ever since, the Democrats vs. the Republicans.
It turned out to be a high-scoring blowout, with the Democrats taking it 26-16. In fact, the Democrats won the first six games.
It was the first in a number of streaks the game has seen. The Democrats won seven in a row from 1948 to 1954. Then, the Republicans won 11 in a row from 1964 to 1974. Next, the GOP took eight games straight from 2001 to 2008, followed by the Democrats taking seven straight from 2009 to 2015. (Note during these last two streaks, the party that held the White House won—probably a coincidence.)
Just as the country is split down the middle politically, the Democrats and Republicans are tied at 39 wins apiece, according to the Game’s official website. And believe it or not, there was one tie—a 17-17 affair in 1983 where they decided to call it quits after nine innings.
As professional stadiums changed in D.C., so did the location of the Congressional Game. The Senators baseball team moved to National Park – later called Griffith Stadium – in 1911, and so did the game, remaining there until 1957. (Though there was a timeout of sorts, when the only games played from 1934 to 1944 were between members and the press.) After a four-year break, the contest moved to the just-built D.C. Stadium in 1962, renamed RFK Stadium after Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated.
From 1973 to 1976, they played in Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium. Maybe the oddest location was at Langley High School in Virginia in 1977—two rainouts forced the politicians to move the game to an alternative field. From 1978 to 1994, the game was held in Four Mile Run Park in Alexandria, Virginia. From 1995 to 2004, it was at Prince George’s Stadium in Maryland. After a three-year stint back at RFK Stadium, it moved to where it’s been since – Nationals Park, home of the new Washington major league team the Nationals.
Tener, the game’s originator, wasn’t the only ringer the play. Former Major League Baseball pitchers Wilmer “Vinegar Bend” Mizell (R-NC) and Hall of Famer Jim Bunning (R-KY) have participated.
Then there’s football Hall of Famer Steve Largent (R-OK), who performed so well that he made it into the Congressional Baseball Hall Of Fame, founded in 1993. Others in this august group include New Mexico Rep. Bill Richardson, who also served in President Clinton’s cabinet; Ohio Rep. Mike Oxley, of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, designed to promote corporate responsibility; and noted libertarian Ron Paul from Texas, who hit the game’s first over-the-wall homer in 1979.
At the start, the Congressional Baseball Game was generally for members of the House. Then, in 1950, came the first senator—Harry Cain, a Republican from Washington. In 1993, another innovation: Women were allowed to play. The first three were Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., and Blanche Lambert Lincoln, Ark.
One more important fact—the game has always been for charity. Over the years, millions have been raised for various causes. But this year, there’s an extra cause—after the violence on Tuesday, the game is a sign that no matter what our differences, we’re ultimately all on the same team.