Forget Tip O'Neill. He's just the Speaker of the House.Never mind John Rhodes. He's merely the Minority Leader. The real power on Capitol Hill belongs to Steve Daniels.

He's the commissioner of the Congressional Softball League, with jurisdiction over 175 teams and 10 times that many players a fiefdom that puts to shame those baseball's Bowie Kuhn and football's Pete Rozelle. Unlike those czars, Daniels' rewards are intangible. With long hours and no pay, he'll take anything he can get.

"The only virtue is when you go to cooktail parties and you can't think of anything to say," the 33-year-old associate minority counsel of the House Government Operations Committee begins shyly. "You can tell them you're the commissioner of the Congressional Softball League and they're always impressed."

"The only tangible benefit I've gotten was a T-shirt with 'commissioner' on it. My sister gave it to me last Christmas."

It's a much better present than he is wont to receive from those he governs.

They, for example, have been known to call him in the wee hours and give him grief about a purported bum deal in that day's game. Fortunately for him, the number of protests has gone down while the number of teams has gone up during the four years of his administration.

"I think people have realized it's foolish to protest," he said in his best stentorian, commissioner-like tone. "Everybody just wants to play."

The playing's not the only thing, however. There's never been a league as adept at the name game. Like Old Man River, the Rolling Thones go on and on, even though former Congressman Charles Thones has forsaken his charges for the Nebraska governor's chair.

The Select Committee on Aging is really -- what else? -- the Hot Peppers, in honor of chairman, Rep. Claude Pepper (D-Fla.). And perhaps his younger colleagues, the Florida Frosh Semigators, will be able to eat Ham's Fish and Chips (after Rep. Hamilton Fish, R-N.Y.) for dinner one of these nights.

The Minnesota Knee-Jerk Liberals undoubtedly would like to use (John, D-Ohio) Sieberling's Steel-Belted Radicials on their cars. And when Norman Mineta (D-Calif.) and Tim Wirth (D-Colo.) joined forces, they naturally called their club What's Mineta-Wirth. If you really want to know, (James, D-N.Y.) Scheuer's Voyeurs might be glad to find out. The Thomas Pains (Willilam Thomas, R-Cal.) can ease their agony with a few hits of Southern Comfort (Jack Edwards, D-Ala.), while the Library of Congress Motion Picture Division -- the Reel People -- catches them in the act.Finally, the loser of the (Joe, D-Mass.) Moakley's Modified Open Rulers versus the Meyner-Ferraro (Geraldine, D-N.Y.) Memorial Musk Oxon contest can crawl away to NOAA's Arks (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) to lick their wounds.

Is there a method to this madness? Probably not. Besides, like any good leader, Daniels has taken steps to insulate himself from all but the most pressing concerns. After all, for a man of his status, time is one of the essence.

Daniels is well-schooled in his trade. A graduate of Yale University and Yale Law School, he was the clone of other bright-eyed, eager fledging attorneys who reported for work on the Hill in 1972. Daniels' man was Robert McClory (R-Ill.), whom he served for two years before McClory helped him obtain his present position.

Being commissioner was neither requirement nor perquiste. "I was the only one dumb enough to say yes when the previous commissioner was calling everyone he knew and asking them to take over," Daniels admitted.

Now he has refined his art so that he works hard at the beginning and the end of the season and as little as possible in between.

His duties? Before the first ball is thrown out (a totally unceremonious occasion unlike those conducted by Kuhn's legions), Daniels circulates a memo containing the AA and A league schedules, the rules, a list of B league teams and an inspirational message about the upcoming season. This year's read: "(Without even the most remote possibility of a strike or lockout, salary or profit, the CSL is beginning its ninth season. Thank you and have a great season. Play ball!" The memo also seized the opportunity to remind potential malcontents that "sportsmanship and enjoyment have priority in this league."

Not exactly. Beer is certainly tied and possibly ahead of both those alleged virtues.

"The difference between the leagues is obvious," Daniels explained. "In the AA and A leagues, softball is more important. In the B league, beer is."

Accurate, but too simplistic. In the AA league, which has 11 teams, and the A league, which has two nine-team divisions, teams must have at least five people from a legislative branch office and club names must include the handle of at least one member of Congress; teams call their own balls and strikes; must report their results to the scorekeeper (a clever ploy designed to relieve the commissioner of that chore); have a set schedule, and must pay a $20 fee per team. Rumors of graft have run rampant, but Daniels steadfastly insists that all funds are used to obtain umpires for the playoffs, in which eight teams from each league participate.

The B league, like the government, runs itself,, and as is the democratic way, anyone can play. There is no entry fee, no balls and strikes, no scorekeeper and no set schedule. Captains schedule as many or as few of the 146 teams, some of which are from off the Hill, as are willing to play their club. Fields are on a first-scramble basis. If you show up at the Mall after 5 p.m. and expect to find a place to play, forget it. The playoff schedule has neither rhyme nor reason, but somehow produces a championship team. Last year it was Public Works, of the Public Works and Transportation Committee.

The office of the Clerk of the House is the defending A champion. This is the AA league's freshman year on the Hill.

One common thread among the leagues is Rule 1: "Each team shall be composed of 10 or less players. Three or more of the players shall be female, and the pitcher shall at times be a female."

"I don't know why that got started," Daniels admits. "It was here when I took over. I think it makes the pitching easier to hit and gets the women more involved in the game. At the riskk of sounding sexist, it's hard to get women to play.And if you get more than four on the field, you tend to lose the good attributes of slow-pitch softball, like lots of runs and hits."

The rule can be waived at the discretion of the captains, who more often than not decide that two out of three ain't bad.

"Aside from the beginning of the year and the playoffs," Daniels confessed, "it's harder to be a team captain than commissioner. I was team captain once (he currently plays for the AA leaguue (rep. John N. -- Ill.) Erlenborn Eagles), and I'd never do it again."

Captains agree. "It's impossible," said Diane Blagman, captain of the B league (Peter, D-N.Y.) Peyser's Prime Time Players. "You don't do anything as commissioner all year. As captain, you worry every week. You need 85 people on your roster because you never know who's going to show up. They always tell you at the last minute when you always think you've got enough people. You might care, but they don't.

Ah, but they do. Why else would they descend in droves from the Navy Yard to the Mall to Georgetown on hot, muggy nights in July and August? There's beer on tap all over the city, the parking's a royal pain, and half the time no one knows who's in first place.

Kuhn and Rozelle should have it so good. It's enough to make any commissioner content.

"My biggest concerns -- competitive balance and financial stability of the franchises -- are clearly under control," a satisfied Daniels said. "Now, if I can just get my potential successor to answer the phone, I'll be fine."