Stakes for the 1932 Congressional Baseball Game, the first held during the Depression, were high. Proceeds from the match-up went to the District of Columbia unemployed, assisting local families with rent, food, clothing, and medicine, so ticket sales were vital. And importantly, the outcome of the Republican versus Democratic battle was said to predict which party would take the majority of House seats during the election in November.
Smack talk started during spring training. “Early practice indicates the Democrats have a slight edge, but are prone to short windedness,” the Rockford Register-Republic reported mid-May. “Their Republican opponents profess to doubt these statements, on the ground that no Democrat is short winded with an election at hand, especially a presidential year.” The Republican team captain, Vincent Carter (pitcher, of Wyoming), ran with: “If we get to bat first they will never get us out!” But Thomas McMillan (catcher, of South Carolina), captain of the Democratic team, tagged him with the score of the previous game—in the 1928 game, the Democrats scored 20 runs in the second inning alone, easily sliding home with the win.
Guests on game day included President Herbert Hoover, Vice President Charles Curtis, Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes, and bewildered foreign diplomats. Mrs. Hoover served as a patroness during the June 4 match. A “committee of debutantes” sold tickets beforehand, according to the Washington Post. The ballgame was called by former heavyweight champ Gene Tunney and Harry Geisel, an unimpressed umpire from the American League.
In the dugout alongside McMillan, who played ball in school, the Democratic lineup included Fred Vinson (second base, of Kentucky), a college baseball star. Like the Democrats, the Republicans also had a few clutch players: Carter had previously pitched for a semi-professional club in Opal, Wyoming, and slugger Howard Baldrige (right field, of Nebraska) was known as “the congressional Babe Ruth.”
In the first inning, Democrats took the lead, scoring five runs through hits, errors, and “sustained oratory,” the Charleston News and Courier joked. Lewis Douglas of Arizona pitched well, but the team flagged in the seventh inning. “Douglas got tired. His infield was tired, his outfield was tired. I was tired,” sighed a reporter on the congressional sports beat. Sensing Democratic fatigue, the GOP rallied, and soon “Republican runs started coming across as regularly as the senate votes down beer,” the Prohibition-era newspapers observed.
By the ninth, “substitutions on both sides were as frequent as campaign promises in an election year,” the reporter snarked. With a big lead, the Republicans sent in Ulysses Guyer of Kansas as a pinch hitter in the top of the ninth. The Representative slugged the ball—and ran straight toward third base. Amazingly, he reversed course and beat the ball to first. Tunney, the umpire, ended the game unconventionally by ruling a high fly ball to be an automatic out . . . while the ball was still in mid-air.
With a “filibuster of runs,” the Republicans won, 19 to 5. The press chuckled that now everyone knew which party would score the most seats during the election. “As the game goes so goes the election,” the adage went. But in 1932, it wasn’t true. Despite their loss in the Congressional Baseball Game, the Democrats hammered a grand slam of House seats in a landslide election.
For more about the Congressional Baseball Game, see our online exhibition.
Sources: Rockford Register-Republic, 19 May 1932; Washington Post, 28 May 1932, 30 May 1932, 12 June 1932, and 11 September 1932; Columbia Record, 30 May 1932; Evansville Press, 30 May 1932; Charleston News and Courier, 5 June 1932; and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 6 June 1932.Follow @USHouseHistory