Softball Leagues Ramp Up but Remain at Odds

Posted March 19, 2007 at 6:27pm

Last week’s brief flirtation with warm weather coincided with the opening of registration for Capitol Hill softball teams. But the long offseason hasn’t done much to soothe tensions that flared up last year when a collection of House offices split off to form a new league.

Like last year, Congressional offices, agencies, interest groups and law firms have three softball options: the long-established Congressional Softball League, the U.S. Senate Softball League or the relatively new House Softball League.

The HSL was spawned last year out of frustrations shared by some over the CSL’s playoff format, but insurance fees have proved to be a second, ongoing factor in the split.

While registration of an HSL team costs $85 and does not include any insurance, the cost of a CSL team varies depending on the number of players on the roster. A full-time player in the CSL will pay a season fee of $24, which includes health and liability insurance. Part-time players also can be insured for $6 each.

Longtime CSL Commissioner Gary Caruso said that last season a player with only CSL insurance received full reconstructive knee surgery for just the $24 (plus a $500 deductible) after being injured in a league game. He added that the insurance covers liability for damaged property and injured spectators or passersby.

“New Members of Congress and their staffs are going to have to ask themselves, ‘If an injury or something happens to us while we’re out on the field, do I want my Member named in a lawsuit for this, without any coverage?’” said Caruso, a Democratic political consultant.

HSL Commissioner Anthony Reed, who led the movement for the new league last year, said he views the two leagues simply as different products.

“There were some teams in our league last year who expressed concerns about not having insurance, and that’s fine. We told them that if insurance was a big deal to them, they should go to Gary’s league,” said Reed, deputy chief of staff for Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).

But Reed said he, personally, is not overly concerned about not being insured on the diamond. “I’m not a lawyer, but I’m pretty sure if you go play a pickup game of softball on the Mall, I don’t know how your boss winds up in a lawsuit,” he said. “If you graduated from Syracuse and are playing a reunion pickup game of softball on the Mall and someone gets hurt, does the university somehow wind up in a lawsuit? Again, I’m not a lawyer.”

That thinking, according to Caruso, is “winging it and letting the chips fall where they may.”

“God forbid somebody gets hurt and tries to sue them,” Caruso said.

Caruso has a second bone to pick: His league was not included in last year’s “King of the Hill” game, which matched the winners from the Senate and House leagues.

According to Caruso, the game was sponsored by Bill Sells, director of government relations at the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, in an attempt to “cozy up to the Speaker’s office and get access,” since Reed’s boss was Speaker last year.

“Sells didn’t know the Democrats would take back the House eventually, and he was trying to cozy up to them and legitimize their league,” Caruso said. “He was not going to include our league, the granddaddy of them all, in its 36th year of existence, in the ‘King of the Hill’ tournament.”

But Sells, Reed and Sonja Hoover, commissioner of the Senate league, said that Sells was far from a sponsor of the game, providing just a small trophy that will be re-used each year.

As for the notion that he gained special access to Hastert’s office by donating the trophy, Sells said, “The fact of the matter is you can go to the [former] Speaker’s office and bring my name up, and no one in that office will even know my name. No one will say they know me or that I’ve lobbied them. Anthony Reed will be the only person who says he knows me, and that’s only because of softball.”

Reed and Hoover added that the Senate league had tried for years to get a game with the CSL winner but that Caruso ignored repeated entreaties.

“We have a lot of people who play in both the Senate league and Gary’s league, and people always suggested it,” said Hoover, who works for Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). “I e-mailed Gary. I don’t know him personally, but someone gave me his phone number, and I left messages and got no response.”

Caruso denied that he was ever contacted by Hoover about a “King of the Hill” game.