Heard on the Hill

Remembering Tim Johnson: Congressional Baseball Game Was the ‘Love of His Life’

Former Oxley staffer died at 59 years old

Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, center, sets the lineup during a scrimmage between Republican team members in 2016 with Rep. Mike Bishop, R-Mich., right, and coach Tim Johnson, left. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Former staffer and Congressional Baseball Game staple Tim Johnson died Sunday after a decade-long battle with multiple myeloma.

He died at his sister’s house in Leola, Pennsylvania, at 59 years old. He had just celebrated his birthday Oct. 3.

Johnson worked in communications for former Reps. Mike Oxley and Spencer Bacchus, but he made his mark on the congressional community through the baseball game. Johnson was involved with the game for more than 20 years.

He coached the Republican side from 1994, immediately after he joined Oxley’s staff. He held an official role until Oxley’s retirement but continued to help with practices.

“Tim would rouse me every morning at 5:30 lugging bats, balls and Gatorade to the field in Alexandria, and I would never get back to sleep,” his older brother Steven Johnson recalled. “This is the first year that his health really prohibited him from being able to be involved as a runner, a gopher, a sidekick, a helper. He really was doing that in some shape or form for two decades.”

He added, “It was just the love of his life.”

Members on the Republican team, including Majority Whip Steve Scalise, John Shimkus, Rodney Davis and Mike Kelly, would call him to see how he was doing over the last year, his brother said.

“I bet there was 50 guys who called him,” he said.

Tim Johnson was a tremendous asset and provided valuable continuity as bench coach to the Republican team. We traded line up cards, rule interpretations, and scorebook details across the diamond for decades,” said the senior coach for the Democrats, Joe Foley. “We will miss Tim not only as a reliable and talented senior congressional aide — but also as a great baseball man and longtime loyal friend.”

Rep. Mike Oxley, center, presents his legislative director, Tim Johnson, with a team-signed bat and a check as Rep. Steve Pearce, right, looks on in the Rayburn Building. The $5000 check, donated by Aramark fom their concession stand sales, was for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation.
Rep. Mike Oxley, center, presents his staffer, Tim Johnson, left, with a team-signed bat and a check as Rep. Steve Pearce, right, looks on in 2006. The $5000 check, donated by Aramark from their concession stand sales, was for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation. (CQ Roll Call file photo)

Johnson also served on the Congressional Sports for Charity board and ran the Capitol Hill Tennis Club. As secretary of the board, he had just written a check to allocate the money raised from the 2018 baseball game.

“The institutional knowledge he brings is just incredible, and that’s why I put him on my board for Congressional Sports for Charity,” said Ryan Thompson, his successor as coach of the Republican team.

Thompson added, “He was our stats guy, he was at every baseball practice. He was trying to give Joe [Barton] and now Roger Williams as much information as he could. He would keep stats almost moneyball-style at practice.”

Johnson was at the practice in 2017 when a gunman opened fire in Alexandria, Virginia, and shot Scalise, among others. He huddled in the dugout with members of Congress during the gunfire.

“We all wondered if it was a firecracker, but after a short silence, several more shots came. That’s when we made the very quick conclusion that we were under attack,” he told the Observer after the incident.

Johnson, a New York native, had been working as a broadcast journalist in his home state when he was accepted to the American Political Science Association’s Congressional Fellowship program in 1994. He started working for Oxley later that year.

“He went to Washington on the fellowship and never went back,” Steven Johnson said. He had been living in Arlington before his death.

“This all started because I picked a member of Congress who was a big sports fan and enthusiastic baseball player and who told me, ‘Well, you’re helping me run this thing as long as I’m manager,’” Johnson told the Observer last year.

Oxley, who served in Congress from 1981 to 2007 and died of lung cancer in 2016 at 71, led the Republican team during the glory days for the right side of the aisle. His last year managing the team was 2006, when the Republicans beat the Democrats 12-1 to cement his 7-1 record as manager. 

To honor Johnson’s life, loved ones are asking for donations to the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation.

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.