Congressional baseball game pits Republicans against Democrats in strange annual spectacle

“Baseball is a fun game.” – Title of book by the late Major League player and baseball broadcaster Joe Garagiola

“Baseball is like church. Many participate. But few understand.” – Legendary manager of the New York Giants, Brooklyn Dodgers, Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros, Leo Durocher

“When you start the game, they don't say 'Work ball!' They say, 'Play ball!'” – Hall of Famer and Pittsburgh Pirate Willie Stargell

Even if you're a baseball savant, you've probably never seen a baseball game like the annual Congressional Baseball Game at Nats Park on Wednesday night.

About 25,000 fans descend on the stadium to watch Congressional Republicans take on Congressional Democrats on the diamond in front of a national audience broadcast on FS1.


But the annual Congressional tournament is not, to paraphrase Garagiola, just a fun game. It's really weird. Republicans wear standardized uniforms. But each player wears a different cap – usually a tribute to their local Big League club. As Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, wore a Cincinnati Reds cap. But others wear caps from local community colleges, high schools or even minor league clubs. Rep. Greg Steube, R-Fla., is the Republican starting pitcher. Steube adorned his pie with a red “Make America Great” cap last year.

But it's easier to calculate a player's “defensive efficiency ratio” (DER) or “expected independent pitching” (xFIP) than to follow the uniform numbering system that Republicans use for their players.

In short, there isn't one.

Rep. Greg Steube, R-Fla., wears a team red GOP uniform and MAGA hat as he throws during the 2023 Congressional Baseball Game at Nationals Park in Washington.

Rep. Greg Steube, R-Fla., sports a “Make America Great Again” hat as he throws during the 2023 Congressional Baseball Game at Nationals Park in Washington on June 14, 2023. (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

The Republican Party often presents itself as the defender of the free market and freedom. The GOP players appear to be wearing whatever number they want.

Last year, Republicans fielded two number threes: Reps. Greg Murphy, R-N.C. and Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn. Two No. 11s: Reps. August Pfluger, R-Texas., and Juan Ciscomani, R-Ariz. Two number 16s: Reps. Blake Moore, R-Utah, and Kat Cammack, R-Fla., and three number fours: Reps. Bill Huizenga, R-Mich., William Timmons, R-S.C. and Jake Ezell, R.-Texas.

Bill James couldn't keep up with all that.

Meanwhile, Democrats don't have a uniform system. Democrats dress like the American League All-Star team in the 1980s, donning whatever outfit they want.

Rep. Linda Sanchez, Democrat of California, is in her second year leading the Democratic team – the first female captain in congressional baseball history. Sanchez is wearing a Los Angeles Dodgers jersey. Last year, Sanchez's outfit featured the name “Valenzuela” emblazoned across the back and the number “34.” It's a tribute to Mexican star Fernando Valenzuela who took the National League by storm when he debuted with the Dodgers in 1981 and won the Cy Young Award.

In contrast, Rep. Jared Huffman, Democrat of California, plays first base and wore a Humboldt State uniform last year. Rep. Mike Levin, Democrat of California, tells Fox he will wear a San Diego Padres uniform. However, it is unclear whether Levin will appear in contemporary Padres outfits – like Fernando Tatis or Manny Machado. Or maybe Levin will wear a vintage Padres jersey, like Randy Jones and Dave Winfield. They wore garish mustard and maroon uniforms for the Padres in the late 1970s.

Durocher noted that, like the mysteries of faith, baseball can be difficult to understand. Even if you make regular pilgrimages to the stadium.

The Congressional baseball game is no exception.

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., led last year for Republicans, playing second base. But Scalise is struggling to run after nearly being killed on the field during the 2017 baseball practice shootout.

Rep. Jeff Jackson, D-N.C., slides to steal third base during the second inning of the Congressional Baseball Game at Nationals Park in Washington.

Rep. Jeff Jackson, D-N.C., steals third base during the second inning of the Congressional Baseball Game at Nationals Park in Washington on June 14, 2023. (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

As Scalise entered the batter's box last year, Timmons crouched in track position in foul territory. Timmons positioned his cleats as if he were climbing into the starting blocks at the Paris Olympics. Timmons would rush to first base as soon as Scalise made contact. This is the phenomenon of “designated runners” in congressional baseball games.

As Durocher might say, this is the hardest part to “understand”.

Some players can't run. Or at least run very well. Players are therefore allowed to hit. And faster than you can say “Herb Washington,” they're immediately replaced by a designated runner if they reach base. This phenomenon allows players to stay in the game, unlike someone who is lifted for the rest of the game by a classic pinch runner.

Timmons, Fleischmann and Rep. Max Miller, R-Ohio, did most of the work running for Republicans last year. However, Timmons and Miller both had hamstring issues while running the bases.

Sanchez pointed out how the GOP used Timmons and others during a pregame conversation with the officiating crew last year. Sanchez thought the players running the base of Scalise and others were positioning themselves too far down the first base line from home plate. This reduced the standard of 90 feet to first base to 86 or 87 feet.


Just like in the major leagues, everyone is looking for an edge. This minor controversy is emblematic of how both parties take the game of Congress so seriously.

As Pittsburgh Pirates hero Willie Stargell suggested, baseball is a game and is supposed to be fun. It’s a diversion to “play.” Not worked.” Even though baseball vernacular is full of expressions about “keeping score” or the bullpen “doing too much work.” Congressional actors (not workers) really like to “play” the game.

But it's a lot of work.

Training for both teams begins in February when the ground is still frozen and as hard as the bricks making up the outfield wall of Wrigley Field. Lawmakers are only in Washington a few days a week. Thus, both teams maximize their training schedules. Members often find themselves triple- and quadruple-scheduled during a typical day on Capitol Hill. They rush from hearings and legislative increases to unexpected votes. Everything is punctuated by late evening and weekend sessions. So when are lawmakers free to field ground balls or take batting practice? Try 5:45 a.m.

Both teams do this – punctuated by occasional evening scrimmages.

Rep. Kat Cammack, R-Fla., returns home as Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., prepares for a collision at home plate during the first inning of the Congressional Baseball Game at Nationals Park in Washington.

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., prepares for a collision at home plate with Rep. Kat Cammack, R-Fla., during the first inning of the Congressional Baseball Game at Nationals Park in Washington on July 28, 2022. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Don't tell Stargell that the Congress game isn't “work ball.”

The Congressional baseball game sometimes even takes on the air of South American football. Each office has a “cheering section” in the stands for its member. Caregivers and interns often group together in a seating group. Some wear the same t-shirts and even rally around, shouting cheers just for their boss. Some offices informally compete for who has the best attire or the loudest cheering section.

Perhaps the permutation of baseball in Congress is Garagiola's characterization of the national pastime as a “fun game.” Baseball has its standard rules and layouts. But each park is different. Every league is different. Knothole leagues develop their own divergent regulations. Children playing in the garden invent basic rules regarding throws that end up in the next door neighbor's swimming pool. There are provisions determining whether a ball striking a particular slat of a barn constitutes fair or foul territory.


The game of Congress is no different. The competition puts its own stamp on the national game, played in a very distinctive and distinctive way. But nonetheless, it’s baseball.

And every game starts the same way. Just like the game will begin Wednesday night at Nats Park. The referee will declare “Play ball!” »

And despite all the preparation and training beforehand in 25 degree weather at the end of February, Willie Stargell would probably be delighted.


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