This was submitted as an Letter to the Editor to the Washington Post and portions were published on June 15, 2017
The shooting last Wednesday morning during Congressional baseball practice for a charity game in Alexandria, VA, flooded me with nostalgia from recalling days past when Congressional baseball was frivolous, fun and fraternal. In 1956 I was a Page Boy in the U.S. House of Representatives during the 84th Congress, appointed by former majority leader Charles A. Halleck (R-2nd Indiana). The Congressional baseball games were held in the old Griffith Stadium, home of the Washington Senators, located between Georgia Avenue, and 5th Street where the Howard University Hospital stands today. After WWII, baseball became a national pastime and spectator sport, and it captivated our Congressional Members. The frequent games and practices brought the Congress to the ballpark for a late afternoon or early evening game. Beer, peanuts and popcorn populated both the spectator stands and the dugouts, with beer frequently available at the bases. The partisanship and rancor of today didn’t exist back then. The mood was lighthearted, festive and frivolity ruled, not feuding. It was a carnival atmosphere, and a police presence was non-existent. The Senate would play the House Members, with Page Boys as a ruse were sometime snuck in as substitute players, while in some games they dominated the field. Seldom was it the GOP against the Democrats except for their charity game, an annual event since 1909.
Whether it was Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn at the plate or Minority Leader Joe Martin, Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson or National Committee Chair Barry Goldwater, they all took their licks, fouls and foibles during the game with great laughter, hoots and howls. A multitude of players took to the field during the several summer games including Senators John Kennedy, Hubert Humphry, Mike Mansfield, Sam Ervin, Ester Kefauver, Harry F. Byrd, Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson, Stewart Udall, and Representatives John Dingell, Wilber Mills, Jerry Ford, etc. Even Senate President and V.P. Richard Nixon would occasionally show up.Oldsters like House Majority Leader John McCormack, his whip Leverett Saltonstall, Albert Gore, Sr., Les Arends, Hale Boggs, Carl Albert, etc. were prominent in the stands in their seersucker suits, starched shirts, suspenders and straw boater hats. There was no Republican or Democratic section, they all sat together, including wives and their families, kibitzed and talked.
Off the field and back in Congress, while floor debates were at times heated, there were never personal attacks. The Members addressed the issues, and worked collaboratively to iron out differences late at night before cameras in the gallery fostered partisanship performances, and jet airplanes whisked members home on weekends for fundraisers. The Members belonged to the same clubs and churches, and their children all went to the same schools and neighborhood parks and pools. The Members and their families socialized and entertained together on weekends, and developed a personal trust and camaraderie that superseded political affiliations, and fostered collegial collaboration to address national issues. The Capitol Hill crowd was a true community unto itself in the company town.
I witnessed this first hand. My Congressman Republican and former Majority Leader Charlie Halleck maintained a three room suite one floor below the House chamber which was known as the “Halleck Clinic.” Here after hours Halleck would preside over drinks, cards and cigars shared by both Republican and Democrats. This is where compromise was achieved as policy differences and legislation were hammered out collaboratively between the parties. I was posted in the corner to run notes to Members and staff, fetch files, or locate Members to join the session, etc. which is what Page Boys did long before Blackberry’s, IPhones, etc. Senators were not absent from these meetings, freely crossing over to the House unseen in the darkened hallways primarily used for storage. Barry Goldwater, Hubert Humphry, Lyndon Johnson, etc. were frequent visitors. “Mr. Sam” as we called Speaker Sam Rayburn was a regular together with majority and minority leaders. These after-hours smoke-filled sessions were often long into the night, but real legislative progress was achieved, and the serious issues of the national agenda addressed and resolved peacefully.
Oh for the good old days where brew, bravado and not bullets ruled!
Lowell E. Baier, House, 1956