Injuries Don’t Stop Congressional Ballplayers
“Health care now! Health care now!”
The jeers swelled across the Democrats’ side of the stadium, shrill cries conflating sports with politics during the 1994 Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game.
Crumpled on the ground, in so much pain that he couldn’t make out the chants, was then-Rep. Mike Oxley (R-Ohio). Running into first baseman Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) had shattered the bones in Oxley’s left arm.
The arm eventually required a pin that Oxley now refers to as a memento of the annual game, which he played in for 25 years while serving in Congress.
A shattered arm isn’t the only severe injury that Members of Congress risk by suiting up for the baseball game. Marty Lavor, a photojournalist who has covered the Congressional Baseball Game extensively, remembers broken jaws, cracked skulls and dislocated shoulders.
“There are injuries all the time — not necessarily as catastrophic as that, but they get them. … That’s the price of doing business,” he said.
For Rep. Louie Gohmert, the cost in 2008 was a torn meniscus and ACL. Determined to make it home, the Texas Republican collided with pitcher Rep. Joe Baca (D-Calif.) over home plate. Despite the collision, Gohmert managed to twist his body enough to land a foot on the base — and seriously injure himself.
The next year, during a pre-game pep talk, GOP coach Rep. Joe Barton (Texas) warned the team members to play hard, but not hard enough that they injure themselves like Gohmert had.
“And I yelled, ‘You don’t want the run I made?’” Gohmert remembers. The score that year had been 11-10; Gohmert’s torn meniscus might have won his team the game.
Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.) also made a sacrifice for the good of his team in 1989. Sliding into home, waved along by the third base coach, the spikes on his cleat caught on some grass and his foot twisted under him, resulting in a fractured arch.
“I could clearly see that there was no way I could make it,” he said. But Gallegly’s advice to other players — “follow the rules of the game, follow your coach” — are rules he takes seriously as well, so he slid despite the improbability of a score.
Twenty-two years and a bit of arthritis later, Gallegly would risk his foot all over again and get back in the game if he could.
“I said to [Barton], ‘Coach, I’m ready, put me in,’” he said. “Unquestionably, it would be to the benefit of the team.”
Even those Members who spend nights in the hospital and months in rehab keep coming back to the game. Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), who will be playing second base in tonight’s game, dislocated and broke a piece off his shoulder in a head-on collision with catcher Rep. Tim Holden (D-Pa.) in 2003.
“It was the first inning, and I was scoring from second on a single,” he remembers. “I dove headfirst in and discovered that Tim Holden is an immovable object.”
But the chipped shoulder was a worthy sacrifice. Although he didn’t realize it while being whisked away to the hospital via ambulance, Brady had dislodged the ball from Holden’s mitt and helped bring the Republicans a 5-3 win.
In other games, Brady has torn a calf muscle and broken his nose, among other injuries.
And although going all out might mean he ends up with yet another broken bone tonight, he keeps coming back, just like all the other Members who continually risk their limbs in a game less tranquil than it seems.
Their explanation is simple and bipartisan.
“This is the greatest sport ever invented,” Brady said. “I love playing baseball.”