There are Hall of Famers like Hank Aaron, who piled up massive numbers over long careers. And there are Hall of Famers like Bill Mazeroski, who had nice careers but earned their enshrinement based on singular moments. This year’s CQ Roll Call Congressional Baseball Hall of Fame inductee falls into the latter category.
In 1979, Rep. Ron Paul crushed a slow curveball from then-Rep. Ron Mottl that cleared the left-field wall just to the right of the 310-foot mark in Alexandria’s Four Mile Run Park. The Texas Republican is believed to be the first person to hit one out of the park during a Congressional Baseball Game.
It even had a bit of “The Natural” in it. Roll Call reported that when Paul, whose only pre-Congressional baseball experience derived from the sandlots of his youth, came to bat in the sixth inning, his knees were “swabbed in yards of bandages, a precaution after operations over the years.”
Paul said he didn’t realize that was the first over-the-wall home run at the time. “I think they honored me that night with an award for doing it. It was a lot of fun, that’s all. There was no long-lasting significance.”
There are many who would disagree. His legendary power has led to YouTube highlight clips and even a Ripley’s Believe It or Not cartoon. Over the years, however, memories have turned to myth. While Paul is the first to hit an out-of-the-park home run, it has been 15 years since he was the only one to do so. In 1997, another Republican, Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois, hit one off the foul pole at Prince George’s Stadium in Bowie, Md. Others, including former Sen. Birch Bayh
(D-Ind.) and ex-Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.), have hit inside-the-park homers.
And if you ask Paul about the home run, he’ll tell you it’s not his most memorable hit.
“I remember the one I missed,” Paul said, referring to the 1976 game at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium — a major league park. “I hit the top of the wall and got a double.”
According to Roll Call’s coverage of that game, Paul led off with that double, prompting a number of “wows” from Baltimore Orioles, who were watching from the dugout. Both of those hits came off Mottl, and both came on the same pitch. “It went right over the left-field fence,” the Ohio Democrat said. “I never gave him another slow curveball. That was my best pitch.”
Instead, Mottl opted to throw Paul the “blue darter.” “He had a little more trouble with the straight pitch,” he said.
But Mottl, like Paul’s fans, never seemed to forget those big hits because in 1980 he intentionally walked Paul in the first inning to load the bases. Paul would score in that inning and later hit an infield single.
“I feared him when he came up,” Mottl said.
Paul’s high school didn’t have a baseball team when he arrived, so he played football and ran track (“my best sport”). But he tore cartilage in his knee playing football and never fully recovered. “Although I ran in college, I never got my speed back. I peaked as a junior in high school,” he said.
That injury, combined with an electoral loss, limited his Congressional baseball career to seven games. Paul ran for the Senate in 1984 but lost the Republican primary to Phil Gramm. By the time he returned to the House in 1997, it was too late.
“I did [think about playing], but at that point I had been out for 12 years. There were people a little bit younger, and it was the worst time for my knees,” he said. “There was not much ability to run at all. I was not competitive by then.”
He retired from Congressional baseball with a .294 batting average, six runs scored and six runs batted in during seven games.
These days Paul is more widely known for his libertarian take on government. But even back in 1984, as he was preparing to leave the House, Paul had thoughts on how lawmakers could better spend their time.
“I do believe that if the Democrats and the Republicans played more baseball and legislated a lot less, the country would be much better off,” he said on the chamber floor on Sept. 19, 1984. “I am convinced the annual baseball game played by the Republicans and the Democrats must be considered one of the most productive events in which the Members of Congress participate.”
And he still holds the game in high regard. “I’ve always argued that sports are a great way to get to know people,” he said. “There’s a little difference in relationships than with those you only confront on the House floor.”
The Roll Call Congressional Baseball Hall of Fame was established in 1993, when seven veterans were inducted.
The founder of Congressional baseball, Tener played in the majors for four years and was president of the National League.
“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.
“Cannonball” Wheeler, a pitcher, served four terms and helped his team win five straight games.
Mottl helped Democrats win their first series in 1979. He struck out eight batters in 1976.
Under Conte’s leadership, Republicans won an incredible 11 games in a row. In 1968, he hit a double while on crutches.
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.
The Democrats had eight wins and one tie in the 18 contests in which the two-time MVP appeared, beginning in 1975.
The Democratic pitching ace fanned 12 in a 1993 complete-game victory and was MVP in ’93 and ’94. McCurdy helped his team clinch the coveted Roll Call trophy before losing a Senate bid.
A repeat MVP for the Democrats and a 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
One of only two Democratic managers to win a trophy, Sabo was involved more than two decades as a player and manager. He was instrumental in increasing the game’s proceeds to more than $100,000 annually.
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.
The three-time MVP played in 10 straight games and was known for his speed and daring. Playing shortstop in the 1975 game at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium, he fell head-first into the stands to catch a foul ball.
The 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.
Watt, the first African-American member of the Hall of Fame, was the Democrat’s starting pitcher for 11 straight years during a period of Republican ascendancy.