So What Exactly Is the Congressional Baseball Game All About?

Silvio O. Conte, R-Mass., with a cigar clamped in his teeth jokes with Bill Chapel, D-Fla., during the 1986 Congressional Baseball Game. Credit: Keith Jewell / CQ Roll Call / Getty Images

A baseball practice for Congressional weekend warriors in Alexandria, Virginia — just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. — went from basic catching, throwing, and hitting to what the New York Times called “an early-morning nightmare” on Wednesday.

Republican congressmen were getting ready for Thursday’s annual Congressional Baseball Game at Nationals Park when a gunman opened fire. Five people were hit, including Steve Scalise, the house majority whip.

The congressman from Louisiana was standing near second base when he was hit in the hip, collapsed, and took cover by crawling into the outfield grass. Some representatives and staff members at the practice said up to 50 shots may have been fired.

President Donald Trump said later that the shooter died from wounds sustained after police returned fire.

Democratic representatives and staffers were practicing at Gallaudet University in D.C. when they heard the news.

Thursday’s game at Nationals Park will go on as scheduled.

The horrific news put a friendly rivalry game into the headlines. As a result, many people realized they had never heard of it. So what’s the scoop on the game described at congressionalbaseball.org as the “only annual partisan showdown beloved by all and enjoyed by thousands?”

The first game was played in 1909, and the series is currently tied at 39-39-1.

TheHill.com recently produced a preview video featuring mild trash talk from members of both teams, including Scalise. Most of the congressmen said they just hoped to get through the game without tearing a ligament.

In 2016, the Republicans snapped a seven-game losing streak thanks to a last-inning hit by Tom Rooney of Florida. His single made it 8-7 after the Democrats came back from a 6-1 deficit.

After the game, Democrats pinned their slow start on an all-night sit-in about gun control just two weeks after 49 people were killed during a shooting at a nightclub in Orlando.

Based on the video, the game looks to have a solid turnout. Fans are charged $20 per ticket, and proceeds go to charities including the Dream Foundation (a Washington Nationals charity), the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Washington, and the Washington Literary Center. The games typically raise about $500,000.

While the games aren’t much more than you would expect from a couple dozen washed-up jocks on a professional-sized field, there have been some stellar athletes out there. The National Baseball Hall of Fame’s website has a story about the history of the event.

For example, it notes that before he was president, former University of Michigan linebacker Gerald Ford hit the game’s first grand slam in 1957. Jim Bunning, who died in late May, is the only actual baseball hall of famer to have played in the game. Bunning was a star for the Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Phillies and pitched a no-hitter in both the American and National Leagues. In 1987, Bunning pitched for the Republicans and lost to the Democrats, 15-14.

In spite of that star power, two relatively recent additions to the game are in the running for the best congressional baseball players ever.

Current Democratic congressman Cedric Richmond of Louisiana is one of the best, according to Republican representative Joe Barton of Texas.

Richmond told RollCall.com: “I like beating Republicans, or at least attempting to beat them.” His record over the last five years is an impressive 5-0 (after a no-decision last year), and he averages almost two strikeouts per inning.

Before Richmond, former NFL wide receiver Steve Largent, also a pitcher, held the title of “the best.” Largent is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, based on his career with the Seattle Seahawks. At one point, Largent held the records for most career receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns.

Largent was elected to congress as a Republican from Oklahoma in 1994. In the congressional games, he went 5-1 with a 2.44 ERA. He was inducted into the Congressional Baseball Hall of Fame in 2002.