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Roll Call

Hall of Fame: Mel Watt Lives His Dream

Douglas Graham/Roll Call
Rep. Mel Watt ducks a fastball during the 45th Annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game at RFK Stadium.

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Rep. Mel Watt (D) didn’t get a chance to play baseball at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, which he attended at a time in the 1960s when few, if any, African-Americans played on Tar Heel teams.

So for Watt, who was the Democrats’ starting pitcher for 11 consecutive years, the Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game was a way to “live out that dream.”

He pitched at a time when the Republicans were ascendant on the field, racking up a 2-10 career record, but he was named most valuable player in 1995, 1996 and 2000.

Watt’s best outing might have come in one of the games that he didn’t win. He lost a 1998 pitchers’ duel to then-Rep. Steve Largent (R-Okla.) in which Watt gave up four runs on nine hits in six innings, while walking two and striking out seven.

Watt said the friendships that he made with Republicans such as Largent and former Rep. Zach Wamp (Tenn.) were one of the best parts of playing the game.

“You get to know guys you just don’t have that opportunity to get to know in our institution anymore,” Watt said.

His on-the-field friendship with Wamp survived the time in 2000 when he intentionally beaned his opponent. Watt admitted he was angry when Wamp purposely let a slow curveball hit him on the back.

Watt walked over to first base and warned Wamp that he was “going to have to pay” for that. Next time Wamp came up to bat, Watt threw straight at Wamp’s head. 

“It was all in fun,” Watt said.

Less enjoyable, Watt said, were the early morning practices. “I tried to get them to play cold turkey,” which he thought would be better than getting sore while practicing. “I never could convince anybody else of that,” he said.

Watt said he knew it was time to make room for another starting pitcher as “my fastball got slower and slower,” but he hung on because the Democrats didn’t have a ready successor. “If we had a viable alternative, I would love to move to the outfield,” Watt told Roll Call in 2004.

He gave up 22 earned runs on 27 hits in his last two starts and recalled being “so sore for the next several weeks I could barely move.”

He finally stepped aside in 2006 at age 60, although he still pitched two-thirds of an inning in relief of Rep. Joe Baca (D-Calif.).

Watt is the first Democrat to be inducted into the Roll Call Congressional Baseball Hall of Fame since former Minnesota Rep. Martin Sabo in 2006. He is the first African-American member in the Hall of Fame.

Previous Hall of Fame Inductees

The Roll Call Congressional Baseball Hall of Fame was established in 1993, when seven veterans were inducted.

1993: John Tener (R-Pa.)

The founder of Congressional baseball, Tener played in the majors for four years and was president of the National League.

1993: Wilmer Mizell (R-N.C.)

“Vinegar Bend” played 11 years in the majors and served in Congress from 1969 to 1975. After one year of pitching, Democrats insisted he play another position.

1993: William M. Wheeler (D-Ga.)

“Cannonball” Wheeler, a pitcher, served four terms and helped his team win five straight games.

1993: Ron Mottl (D-Ohio)

Mottl helped Democrats win their first series in 1979. He struck out eight batters in 1976.

1993: Silvio Conte (R-Mass.)

Under Conte’s leadership, Republicans won an incredible 11 games in a row. In 1968, he hit a double while on crutches.

1993: Bob Michel (R-Ill.)

Michel’s pitching helped carry the Republicans during the glory years of the 1960s. He hurled a shutout in the first game of the Roll Call era.

1993: Marty Russo (D-Ill.)

The Democrats had eight wins and one tie in the 18 contests in which the two-time MVP appeared, beginning in 1975.

1995: Dave McCurdy (D-Okla.)

The Democratic pitching ace fanned 12 in a complete-game 1993 victory and was MVP in ’93 and ’94. McCurdy helped his team clinch the coveted Roll Call trophy before losing a Senate bid.

1996: Mike Synar (D-Okla.)

A repeat MVP for the Democrats and dugout legend, Synar was a perennial threat at the plate and on the base paths. He drove in the game-winning RBI in 1993. Synar died in 1996.

1997: Bill Richardson (D-N.M.)

A veteran of semi-pro baseball in the Cape Cod League, Richardson played strong defense at home plate. He went a combined 5-for-7 at the plate in 1992 and 1993.

1998: Sid Yudain

Capitol Hill’s very own Abner Doubleday, the founder of Roll Call revived Congressional baseball in 1962, turning the game into an annual summer slugfest that raises money for local charities.

1999: Dan Schaefer (R-Colo.)

As a catcher and second baseman for 10 years, he became manager in 1993. His team rebounded from back-to-back losses in 1993 and 1994 to win the next series in four games.

2000: Carl Pursell (R-Mich.)

Pursell faced a challenge in succeeding Conte as manager, but he came through to win the Series VI trophy. He won an MVP award for one of his many dominating performances at first base. Pursell died June 12 at age 76.

2002: Steve Largent (R-Okla.)

A three-time MVP, Largent went 5-1 as the GOP ace, finishing every game he started. The NFL Hall-of-Famer compiled a 2.44 ERA and held the Democrats to one run in each of his last three games.

2003: David Bonior (D-Mich.)

Known for his longevity and lasting excellence, Bonior won multiple MVP awards during his 23 years on the Democratic team. Since Roll Call began keeping track of statistics in 1991, Bonior hit .375.

2004: Charlie Brotman

Brotman worked side by side with Sid Yudain to revive Congressional baseball in the 1960s and brought prestige to the game by arranging for the first contests to be played prior to Washington Senators games.

2006: Martin Sabo (D-Minn.)

One of only two Democratic managers to win a trophy, Sabo played more than two decades as a player and manager. He was instrumental in increasing the game’s proceeds to more than $100,000 annually.

2007: Mike Oxley (R-Ohio)

In 2005, Oxley became just the second manager to retire two trophies. Following a 16-year playing career (manning every position except pitcher and catcher), Oxley led the team to a 7-1 record as manager.

2008: Lou Frey (R-Fla.)

Between 1968 and 1978, Frey was named the Grand Old Party’s most valuable player three times and was known for his speed on the bases and as a defensive force to be reckoned with at shortstop. During his years in Congress he was such an enthusiast for the game that his picture was included on a baseball card that celebrated the annual Congressional hardball battle and that card is now a part of the collection at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y.

2009: Kenny Hulshof (R-Mo.)

Former high school baseball star won two MVP awards in his 11 seasons, batting .444 and providing stellar defense at first base. Equally important, the Republicans were 10-1 during his career.

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