MLB.com Columnist

Joe Posnanski

In attack's wake, a look at DC game's roots

Democrats, Republicans put aside differences on baseball diamond

In attack's wake, a look at DC game's roots

This Congressional Baseball Game idea began in 1909, a very different time, before New Mexico or Arizona were states, when women could not vote, when Babe Ruth was still at the St. Mary's Industrial School for Boys.

John Tener, a pitcher who won 25 games for the Chicago White Stockings and Pittsburgh Burghers between 1888-90, became a Republican congressman in 1908. He organized the first game the next year. And members of Congress have been playing the game on and off for more than 100 years. Wars came and went. There was a time in the late 1950s and early '60s when Sam Rayburn, the all-powerful Speaker of the House, canceled the games because too many congressmen were getting injured. John McCormack, a World War I veteran and a member of the House for more than 40 years, brought it back.

The game for years and years did not represent anything specific. It was just a part of the Washington culture. Congressmen would fight ferociously during the day and play cards together in the evening. They would work the backrooms to win, and then golf and vacation together during time off. The baseball game was just a natural extension of a different Washington, when people in Congress rarely went back to their districts, when there were no cable television shows to do, when it was natural to yell at each other rather than ignore each other.

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"Even pretty recently, we weren't so ideological," said Tom Davis, a seven-time congressman from Virginia's 11th district. "You had liberal Republicans. You had conservative Democrats. We don't have that anymore. It's basically a parliamentary system."

And so Thursday's Congressional Baseball Game -- especially in the aftermath of the tragic shooting at the Republican practice on Wednesday -- has come to represent something, a memento of a lost time, when the fights were every bit as fierce, but everyone wore the same uniform.

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Thursday, everyone will wear LSU gear in honor of Louisiana congressman Steve Scalise, who was one of four shot at the baseball field.

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"You should know," Davis said, "I had a five-game hitting streak in the Congressional Baseball Game." He pauses for comedic effect. "With a generous scorekeeper," he added.

But really, Davis never missed a game. He is a baseball fanatic; you might remember that he led the committee investigating steroids in baseball. Davis is not just a season-ticket holder for the Washington Nationals, he is the sort of guy who brings his glove to the game. He's someone who attended the Congressional Game even after he left Congress, in large part because "It's a great place to get a baseball."

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And Davis loves talking about the Congressional Baseball Game, loves talking about how Republicans dominated when NFL Hall of Famer Steve Largent pitched for them, loves talking about how the Democrats came back when Louisiana elected Cedric Richmond ("He throws in the 80s and hit the ball off the wall one year,"), loves talking about the rumor that Ron Paul once hit a ball out during a game, loves talking about the time that Democrat Chris Murphy, now Connecticut's junior senator, fielded a bunt with the bases loaded and threw the ball away, allowing three runs to score.

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"We never used it as an attack ad," Davis said. "But we had it in the can."

Baseball provides one of those chances -- growing rarer and rarer -- when politics are cast aside, when people can challenge each other and laugh at each other and just plain see each other. Davis, a lifelong Republican, loves telling the story about Ohio's Sherrod Brown, a lifelong Democrat, giving up the game. Brown had been so passionate about baseball that he once was badly hurt in a collision with teammate Bill Jefferson when going after a fly ball.

'Why did you give it up?" Davis asked Brown.

"When I was standing out there praying that nobody hit me the ball," he said, "I knew it was time."

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And this goes beyond the day-to-day in-fighting. This is about humanity.

"I miss it," Davis said. "The Congressional Game is one of two things that I miss about being in Congress."

Davis then talks about how the game will be touching and important and represent some of the wonderful things about Congress, with players on both teams wearing the same uniform, feeling the same feelings, expressing unity. But, he said, then the game will end.

"The next day," he said, "they will go home. The media model will return. And the pounding will begin again. But at least there will be the game. Who knows? Maybe it will be different."

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Davis then wanted to talk a bit about the Nationals' bullpen problems. But before that, I asked him: What was that other thing he missed about Congress?

He paused for a minute. "Doesn't matter," he said.

Joe Posnanski is an executive columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.