The best American traits are represented in baseball, so it’s OK to expect America’s representatives to be at their best playing baseball.
“In all its complementary contradictions, its play of antitheses, baseball captured a continent bounded to east and west by oceans, laced by mountains and rivers, dry, fertile, wet, wooded, and at its heart, or stomach, endlessly flat. America is a topography mythologized by its inhabitants as they crossed and re-crossed it into an image of themselves, diverse, demanding, unified by common acts of consent to a government of themselves, a government consciously checked and balanced, the formal antitheses of the state reflecting and shaping the inclusive ideals and isolationist tendencies of a people receptive and wary,” A. Bartlett Giamatti, the late baseball commissioner, said in a speech 30 years ago to the Massachusetts Historical Society. Giamatti saw baseball, nation and government inextricably linked. As Roll Call prepares to celebrate its 60th anniversary on June 16, one of our prouder achievements in our six decades on Capitol Hill is the revival of the then-dormant Congressional Baseball Game, 54 years ago this summer.
Speaker Sam Rayburn, D-Texas, had witnessed one rough play too many when he put the kibosh on the game in 1958. His successor, Speaker John McCormack, D-Mass., worked with Roll Call founder Sid Yudain to bring it back in 1962. Congress and baseball just went together.
Before Rayburn nixed it, the game was played in Daytona Beach, Fla., a spectacle the then-sleepy beach town used to attract visitors, according to Speaker Thomas J. “Tip” O’Neill, D-Mass., in his autobiography, “Man of the House.”
After the game was revived, O’Neill said, “These days, the annual congressional baseball game is played in Washington. Sil Conte is the manager of the Republicans, and they’ve been winning every year. But enough about that.”
That passage speaks to the present game. Note O’Neill’s reference to one of his close pals in the Massachusetts delegation, Republican Rep. Silvio Conte. The friendship was real and cut across party lines. A visit to the post-game party shows this kind of spirit surviving, even if other times it’s in short supply.
Also: No team stays dominant. The GOP, led by Conte, used to run circles around the Democrats. Conte came up to bat once on crutches while smoking a cigar. He hit a double. These days, the Democrats have bullied their way to six straight wins.
This year, serious bragging rights are at stake. Dating to the game’s origins in 1909, the series is knotted, 38-38-1.
There is other drama afoot. The Democrats’ best player, Cedric L. Richmond of Louisiana, is coming off a shoulder injury. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is running the bases, as well as for president.
Somebody’s going to win, and somebody’s going to lose. Or there could be a tie. Or it could rain.
That’s baseball. That’s life.
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