Ordinarily, you might not think a blog item about a Congressional baseball game with Supreme Court overtones from the 1930s would be relevant to your life.
But if ever there were a time I can get away with this, it’s right now. Because:
1) Athletes are talking about the Supreme Court. D.C. athletes, even.
“I’m claiming residancy [sic] in another country next year,” Redskins running back Roy Helu Jr. wrote after last week’s health care decision.
“Definitely stunned by the Supreme Courts ruling on Obamacare today,” his teammate, Graham Gano, noted.
2) Media reports are streaming in about political ball games.
“After pulling out a win with the Supreme Court decision to uphold Obamacare, despite pundits (and inTrade) predicting the opposite outcome, Dems took to the field at Nationals Park for the 51st annual CQ-Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game to slaughter the Republicans, 18-5,” National Journal reported last week.
“The Republican National Committee defeated the Democratic National Committee 8-7 in their annual softball matchup Wednesday night, an evening of shouting and jeering so obnoxious and partisan that it possibly damaged the very fabric of the republic,” The Examiner reported last week.
“In 1979, Rep. Ron Paul crushed a slow curveball from then-Rep. Ron Mottl that cleared the left-field wall just to the right of the 310-foot mark in Alexandria’s Four Mile Run Park,” Roll Call wrote last week, as it inducted Paul into its Baseball Hall of Fame. “The Texas Republican is believed to be the first person to hit one out of the park during a Congressional Baseball Game.”
Political baseball news is clearly hot hot hot.
So let me therefore take you back back back in time, to the last week of June in 1937, almost exactly 75 years ago. Congress was at the time debating the Judicial Procedures Reform Bill, FDR’s famous court-packing attempt. Political tensions were high, even within the Democratic Party. In that context, Congressional Democrats — “the obstreperous along with the faithful” — visited in three groups with President Roosevelt at the Jefferson Islands Club, 15 miles from Annapolis, and played some ball.
“Yesterday’s Democratic guests passed the day in swimming, singing, feasting, baseball and story telling,” The Post’s Robert C. Albright reported. “On the lighter side, high spot of the day’s festivities was a six-inning ball game between House and Senate members, in which the House team rolled up a 13-to-2 triumph. Postmaster General James A. Farley pitched an inning for the Senatorial ‘eleven,’ which was given an advantage of two extra players.
[Get it? As in, having the usual “nine” was not enough?]
“Representative Matthew J. Merritt, of New York, who pitched for the House team, knocked Farley out of the box by scoring one of the day’s two home runs. Representative Peter J. DeMuth, of Pennsylvania, scored the only other four-bagger off of Senator Russell, of Georgia, relief pitcher.
“The President’s son, Jimmy, played right field for the House team, and Secretary of Agriculture Wallace outfielded for the Senators. Marvin McIntyre, White House secretary, played first base for the Senators, but he vigorously denied “that was why they lost.”
“McIntyre boasted two hits and five errors. The game was called when the bell rang for the first boat back.”
The Post story was accompanied by the above photograph, my new favorite picture of all time, which was captioned “waving the big stick.”
“A crucial moment during a baseball game played by Senators and Representatives at the Chesapeake Bay retreat,” the caption went on. ”Jim Farley is at bat with two strikes and two balls already called on him. Secretary McIntyre is serving as backstop while Senator Barkley was elected to call ‘em. A senatorial panama was pressed into service for the home plate.”
I just love everything about this. Especially the senatorial panama.
The New York Times also covered the game, noting that “the Senators, who are now struggling with the court plan, had eleven men on their team instead of the traditional nine.”
“That, said the returning members, was the closest the party got to a discussion of the controversial issue. The extra men, one of whom was Postmaster General Farley, did the Senators no good, for they lost to the nine-man team, 13 to 2.”
The Times also reported that the game was played “with a soft ball,” and that “the President refused to umpire and turned the job over to Senator Barkley, mentioned for majority leader in the event of the elevation of Senator Robinson to the Supreme Court. Mr. Barkley was accused of favoring his own team.”
Did baseball calm political nerves? Well, not exactly. A few days later, The Post reported that the Senators, “sporting instincts aroused by the Jefferson Islands round of baseball,” had agreed to divide up into seven five-man teams to filibuster the battle over the Court. The teams were called “quints.” The ‘30s were wild, huh?