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Former Rep. Zach Wamp’s baseball career included an MVP award, an inside-the-park home run, a hitting streak that spanned the length of his tenure on the diamond and a batting average better than .500. Not bad for a self-described “B-minus athlete.”
In fact, those credentials have earned Wamp induction into the CQ Roll Call Congressional Baseball Hall of Fame. Now imagine what else he could have accomplished with an earlier debut.
The Tennessee Republican spent 1995, his first year in Congress, focused on being home in his district as much as possible. The following year, he watched the game from the stands and realized, “I can play baseball, too.”
In his second term, the former high-school basketball star went out for the baseball team and started a 13-game run comparable to any other in the 52-year history of the game.
Wamp debuted as the starting center fielder that year and filled up the box score: two hits, two runs scored, one run batted in. If it wasn’t for a home run by Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., Wamp might have won MVP as a rookie.
But that accolade was only two years away. In 1999, settled in as the team’s regular shortstop, Wamp batted 2 for 3 with a run and an RBI — both coming on the same hit. Batting in the third inning, Wamp drove the ball all the way to the wall on a few hops.
“I ran track in high school and still had a little bit of juice in my legs,” Wamp said of his race around the bases. “They were playing in on me. I hit a good shot perfectly between left and center. They were just getting to the ball when I made the turn at second base.”
Although piecing together correct statistics from every game is nearly impossible given the constant in-game player substitutions and inconsistent record-keeping, we know Wamp hit safely in at least 11 games, but more likely 13. The box score published after the 1998 game shows Wamp going hitless in one at-bat, but later coverage and interviews suggest he did record at least one hit that year, giving him a hit in every game. That is “almost certainly a record only matched by Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio,” according to Wamp’s former manager, then-Rep. Mike Oxley, R-Ohio.
While Wamp clearly remembers some of his exploits in great detail, he’s quick to spread the credit among his teammates. “The main thing was that I was just part of a heck of an infield,” Wamp said, referencing former teammates ex-Rep. Kenny Hulshof of Missouri (first base), Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas (second) and ex-Rep. Charles W. “Chip” Pickering Jr. of Mississippi (third). “There’s no question that infield was one of the best to ever suit up in the Congressional Baseball Game.” Wamp said he believes Brady and Pickering should join the other two in the Hall of Fame. (Hulshof was inducted in 2009.)
“Zach was the centerpiece of my ‘million-dollar infield’ that won nine games in 10 years,” Oxley said. “They made history and all of them deserve the honor of induction into the Roll Call Baseball Hall of Fame.”
The Republicans went 11-2 during his 13 years on the team (capturing four coveted CQ Roll Call trophies), and, as Wamp points out, there was a lot of pressure on the infield defense during those years. Former Oklahoma Rep. Steve Largent and later Shimkus were the staff aces and induced a lot of ground balls. “We got a lot of action, and that was fun because I was able to turn a lot of double plays,” Wamp said.
While a fierce competitor on the field, Wamp and the opposition often found humor in the competition — at least after the fact:
• In 2000, Democratic pitcher Melvin Watt intentionally hit Wamp with one of his big, slow curveballs. Wamp admittedly made no effort to get out of the ball’s way, leading to a bit of a war of words and another pitch thrown at his head later in the game. Eventually, he and the North Carolinian both got over it and count each other as friends.
• “Every once in a while a senator would come out and grace us with his presence,” said Wamp, keying in on Ohio’s Sherrod Brown, whom he recalls being a left-handed drag-bunter. “I was really looking for it and he laid a perfect one down and I one-handed it and submarined it to Hulshof. Bang-bang.” Long after the game, Brown would see Wamp and jokingly say, “I hate you,” to which Wamp replied, “That was the highlight of all my infield plays.”
Those instances are among the many examples of the comity identified by Wamp, who now runs Chattanooga-based Zach Wamp Consulting, as the most important element of congressional baseball.
“There are few things in Congress that bring people together with such good will. The game is like the House gym and the prayer breakfast,” Wamp said. “It’s for a good cause — and we play in an unbelievable venue. You get a feeling like you’re an athlete again.”Hall of Fame Past Inductees
The CQ 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 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.1996: Mike Synar, D-Okla.
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 1996.1997: 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.
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.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 before Washington Senators games.2006: Martin Sabo, D-Minn.
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.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.
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.2009: Kenny Hulshof, R-Mo.
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.2011: Melvin Watt, D-N.C.
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.2012: Ron Paul, R-Texas
Paul retired from congressional baseball with a .294 batting average over seven games. In 1979, he hit what is believed to be the first home run hit out of the park during a Congressional Baseball Game.
The 52nd Annual CQ Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game is Thursday at 7:05 p.m. at Nationals Park. Tickets can be purchased at congressionalbaseball.org.