The game must go on
Shooting will not halt venerable Congressional Baseball Game.
The harrowing rifle attack Wednesday as Republican legislators prepared for the Congressional Baseball Game won’t stop a venerable, bipartisan Capitol Hill tradition from going forward.
Though the shooting at an Alexandria ball field left House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and four others injured, the annual charity fundraiser will be held as scheduled on Thursday night at Nationals Park, an emotional Speaker Paul D. Ryan announced to cheering lawmakers in the House chamber.
The annual event was founded in 1909 by Rep. John Tener, Pennsylvania Republican and a onetime professional ballplayer who later served as president of the National League. Pitting Democratic and Republican legislators against each other in a more amiable setting than the Capitol, the game quickly grew popular.
The competition has been held almost every year since its founding, with a few exceptions. In 1914, for example, legislators were called from the field because a quorum wasn’t present in the House to debate an important bill. In 1958 Speaker Sam Rayburn of Texas put a stop to the game, claiming it was too physical, but the tradition resumed in 1962 with the sponsorship of Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper.
The quality of play can be patchy at times, but a number of lawmakers have managed to distinguish themselves on the field. Rep. Silvio Conte hit a double while on crutches in 1986. Rep. John Shimkus pitched three months after having open-heart surgery in 2005. And Rep. Linda T. Sanchez, California Democrat, has played every year except one during her congressional career, and is the only female to play in the past several years.
In addition to Mr. Tener, participants have included some professional “ringers” including Rep. Wilmer “Vinegar Bend” Mizell of North Carolina and Sen. Jim Bunning of Kentucky, a Hall of Fame pitcher who passed away late last month.
The partisan record is remarkably close, according to the game’s website, with each party claiming 39 victories in the series. Democrats won the first games, keeping Republicans from a win until 1916. Republicans won last year’s game, breaking a losing streak that began in 2009. Lawmakers say the event is a welcome break from the bitter partisanship that can engulf most aspects of congressional life.
The game has long been a charity event, channeling funds to the Red Cross War Service Fund in 1917 and to the Community Chest for Relief of the Unemployed in 1933. Proceeds now support the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington, the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation and the Washington Literacy Center.
While colleagues on both sides of the aisle expressed relief that Mr. Scalise was merely wounded by the shooting, Mr. Ryan acknowledged there were regrets.
Mr. Scalise “is really likely frustrated that he can’t play in the baseball game,” Mr. Ryan said on the House floor.