In the Beginning, There Was Baseball
Since the first edition of Roll Call was published on June 16, 1955, a big part of the editorial mission has been chronicling life around Capitol Hill, what our founder Sid Yudain referred to as “our little community.”
In that first run, under a section on Page 4 dubbed “Editorial Stuff,” there is coverage of that annual rite of summer, the Congressional Baseball Game, and it has a familiar tone to it, a connective tissue from Vol. 1, No. 1 to Vol. 60, No. 127.
“We’ve all done a lot of kidding about the Congressional baseball game. But while we’re enjoying our laughs, let’s not lose sight of the splendid and humane purpose of the annual tilt. Both the Congressmen and the Evening Star which sponsors the affair deserve a long, low bow for their efforts to send underprivileged children to country camps,” the item stated, referring to the always amusing spectacle of grown men fulfilling childhood fantasies on the baseball diamond.
At the top of the page was emblazoned: “Demos Look for Silver Lining In Diamond Debacle” after the GOP thrashed the Democrats, 12-4. The accompanying two stories spelled out the perspectives of each dugout. “Democratic Loss Omen of Ballot Victory?” on one side and “GOP Finds Win Best News Since Ike’s ‘I’ll Run’” on the other.
The party breakdown barely budged after the following year’s midterm elections, with Democrats continuing their very thin majority rule in both chambers. Regarding play on the field, Rep. Thomas James Tumulty, a New Jersey Democrat whose photo in the Congressional Biographical Directory features him laughing and adorned with a Washington Senators jersey and baseball cap, said, “If Abner Doubleday knew this was going to happen he wouldn’t have invented the game. It will set baseball back 75 years.”
When the game was canceled in 1958, it was front page news on the March 19 edition of Roll Call.
“An annual event that was becoming a Washington tradition is being allowed to die a quiet death,” Jack Bryan’s story led. For years, Speaker Sam Rayburn has been singled out as the game’s executioner, citing the Texas Democrat’s mother-hen worries that the game had gotten too physical. Bryan’s story offers a more nuanced breakdown of the game’s demise.
Bryan cites Florida Rep. A.S. Herlong Jr., the manager and “chief promoter” of the Democrats’ team, as pinning the blame on apathy. “When queried as to reasons for the demise of the game, Herlong observed that the 1957 affair netted only about $400, most of which came from the Congressmen and their offices, and he and others reasoned that all of the work and trouble were not worth it in the face of this loss of interest.”
Still, Rayburn didn’t seem sad to see the game go and, “when informed of the decision, was ‘most grateful.’ The Speaker has often voiced his fear that a serious injury or death from heart attacks might result from the annual contest.” Maybe that’s where the familiar story of Rayburn’s nannyism comes from.
(By the way, Herlong, like Tumulty, is featured in the Congressional Biographical Directory with his baseball jersey and cap on.)
The game wasn’t dormant for long. In 1960, the paper was sponsoring a Roll Call Nite at Griffith Stadium, a night out at a Washington Senators game for members and staff. By 1962, that evening was expanded to include a three-inning contest preceding the Senators-Minnesota Twins game.
The GOP won that May 22 partisan contest behind strong pitching and purple prose in these pages the following day. “Burley Bob Michel, the Peoria powerhouse, pitched the prancing pachyderms of Capt. Silvio Conte to a 4-0 shutout victory over the dissolute donkeys of Democratic Capt. Harlan Hagen last night at the new District Stadium.”
By 1975, the 20th anniversary edition of Roll Call included a four-page insert reproducing members’ tributes from the June 18, 1975, Congressional Record. Among those was Rep. Charles H. Wilson, D-Calif., who connected the publication’s raison d’etre with its roots in congressional baseball.
“For Roll Call has a marvelous sense of fun — no doubt inspired by Sid Yudain’s zany sense of humor and genuine love for Capitol Hill. He is dedicated to uniting the diverse congressional community through such popular events as the annual congressional ball game,” Wilson said.
That same day, Conte, R-Mass., the long-time skipper for the GOP Nine, appreciated the bonding aspect of the annual game. “Through the years, it has done much to foster a spirit of community on the Hill. As the coach and manager of the Republican Baseball Team, I am most appreciative of the sponsorship, all-out support and fine coverage Roll Call gives our annual partisan outings on the diamond,” the cigar-chomping slugger said. Their mutual love of stogies and baseball bonded Conte and Yudain for years.
And now, with June 11’s 54th Annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game in the books, there’s some added panache to the history.
As President Barack Obama dropped by the game for an impromptu visit to the Democrats’ dugout, some of his home-brewed beer in tow in a modest ice chest, the game stepped into the national political spotlight.
Republicans chanted “T-P-A, T-P-A, T-P-A,” short for the Trade Promotion Authority package that would be voted on in the House the next day. As the president ambled over to the GOP dugout, Obama graciously posed for a photograph with the coveted Roll Call trophy. As far as we at Roll Call can tell, that was a first.
Even after 60 years, there’s always something new about this peculiar community, its people and the games they play.