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Retired Sabo a Rare Breed: A Democrat With a Trophy

Roll Call Hall of Fame Past Inductees

John Tener (R-Pa.)
The founder of Congressional baseball, Tener played in the majors for four years and was president of the National League.

Wilmer Mizell (R-N.C.)
“Vinegar Bend” played 11 years in the majors and served in Congress from 1969 to 1975. After one year of pitching, Democrats insisted he play another position.

William Wheeler (D-Ga.)
“Cannonball” Wheeler, a pitcher, served four terms and helped his team win five straight games.

Ron Mottl (D-Ohio)
Mottl helped Democrats win their first series in 1979. He struck out eight batters in 1976.

Silvio Conte (R-Mass.)
Under Conte’s leadership, Republicans won an incredible 11 games in a row. In 1968, he hit a double while on crutches.

Bob Michel (R-Ill.)
Michel’s pitching helped carry the Republicans during the glory years of the 1960s. He hurled a shutout in the first game of the Roll Call era.

Marty Russo (D-Ill.)
The Democrats had eight wins and one tie in the 18 contests in which the two-time MVP appeared, beginning in 1975.

Dave McCurdy (D-Okla.)
The Democratic pitching ace fanned 12 in a complete-game 1993 victory and was MVP in ’93 and ’94. McCurdy helped his team clinch the coveted Roll Call trophy before losing a Senate bid.

Mike Synar (D-Okla.)
A repeat MVP for the Democrats and dugout legend, Synar was a perennial threat at the plate and on the base paths. He drove in the game-winning RBI in 1993. Synar died in 1996.

Bill Richardson (D-N.M.)
A veteran of semi-pro baseball in the Cape Cod League, Richardson played strong defense at home plate. He went a combined 5-for-7 at the plate in 1992 and 1993.

Sid Yudain
Capitol Hill’s very own Abner Doubleday, the founder of Roll Call revived Congressional baseball in 1962, turning the game into an annual summer slugfest that raises money for local charities.

Dan Schaefer (R-Colo.)
As a catcher and second baseman for 10 years, he became manager in 1993. His team rebounded from back-to-back losses in 1993 and 1994 to win the next series in four games.

Carl Pursell (R-Mich.)
Pursell faced a challenge in succeeding Conte as manager, but he came through to win the Series VI trophy. He won an MVP award for one of his many dominating performances at first base.

Steve Largent (R-Okla.)
A three-time MVP, Largent went 5-1 as the GOP ace, finishing every game he started. The NFL Hall-of-Famer compiled a 2.44 ERA and held the Democrats to one run in each of his last three games.

David Bonior (D-Mich.)
Known for his longevity and lasting excellence, Bonior won multiple MVP awards during his 23 years on the Democratic team. Since Roll Call began keeping track of statistics in 1991, Bonior hit .375.

Charlie Brotman
Brotman worked side by side with Sid Yudain to revive Congressional baseball in the 1960s and brought prestige to the game by arranging for the first contests to be played prior to Washington Senators games.

Rep. Martin Sabo (Minn.) clearly loves baseball.

It’s a fact that is apparent from the moment one enters his office in the Rayburn House Office Building.

The walls are covered with pictures of the 14-term Congressman in the uniform of his beloved Minnesota Twins, proudly posing for the cameras. Then there’s the computer in his personal office, where, during a recent interview, the monitor sported the real-time status of a Twins game against the Detroit Tigers.

And there’s the fact that, for nearly two decades, Sabo has served as manager of the Democratic team in the Annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game.

Until this year, anyway. Sabo, who is retiring at the conclusion of 109th Congress, decided it was best to step down from managing the Democrats immediately, preferring to spend his last game watching from the comfort of the stands at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium.

But Sabo — despite holding a .278 winning percentage as manager — will go out on top: He is this year’s selection for induction into the Roll Call Congressional Baseball Hall of Fame, an honor given to the select few whose dedication has made a impact on the game. One reason: Sabo is one of only two Democratic managers to retire a coveted Roll Call trophy.

“He has a strong understanding of the game and has provided steady leadership for the Democratic team. He is very deserving of Hall of Fame honors,” said Rep. Joe Baca (Calif.), the 2003 Democratic MVP. “We’re going to miss him in the dugout and on the sidelines.”

While Sabo was a constant presence at games over the years, he wasn’t overly successful when it came to clinching victories (he has a 5-13 record overall as manager).

Sabo pinpoints age as the main reason for the Democrats’ steady stream of losses. After all, the Republicans didn’t just take back the House in 1994 — they also “elected a pile of young athletes,” Sabo said.

“Maturity and experience,” the 68-year-old Sabo said, “have not paid off.”

But there’s more to Congressional baseball than winning and losing. Money raised from the game goes directly to local charities, including the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington and the Washington Literacy Council.

Last year’s game, for example, raised $125,000 for various charities.

Sabo began playing in 1979, the year after he was elected to the House. He recalls that he didn’t contribute much to that first game.

“I was told I was out of shape,” he said.

But Sabo managed to get in shape, and in 1988 he managed his first game.

Sabo worked the team hard. Each year, he held several practices leading up to the game, up to three or more each week, depending on what Congress was dealing with at the time. That grueling schedule continues this year under the new manager, Rep. Mike Doyle (Pa.).

Sabo’s managerial philosophy, meanwhile, followed that of legendary manager Casey Stengel: Keep it simple, stupid.

“I never thought you should get things too complicated,” Congressional baseball’s old professor said. “Go out and play as hard as you can. Field the routine balls.”

There are a selection of games during Sabo’s lengthy tenure that stick out in his mind as being special, he said.

Of course, there is the 9-2 victory that helped the Democrats clinch a best-of-five series in 1994, allowing the team to retire the trophy (only the second the team earned, compared to the GOP’s nine).

Then there is the “tragic and exciting” game in 1996, when Reps. Tim Holden (Pa.) and William Jefferson (La.) collided. Holden broke his nose, jaw and cheekbone.

“Both were headed for the hospital. Tim had major injuries,” Sabo recalled. “Somehow, we came out and won that game.”

(The Democrats won 16-14, in fact.)

Then there was 1991, when then-Reps. Dick Swett (N.H.), Bill Richardson (N.M.) and Dave McCurdy (Okla.) led a two-out Democratic rally in the next-to-last inning. Their consecutive triples helped the team overcome a four-run deficit.

Overall, Sabo said both Democrats and Republicans alike have given fans a memorable time.

“There’s been lots of close games,” he said. “It’s been better baseball than expected.”

The game will now go on without him. Sabo said the Democrats have a good shot at victory this year.

One reason: The team is a lot younger than in games past. Youthful Democrats expected to play include 32-year-old Rep. Tim Ryan (Ohio), 39-year-old Rep. Kendrick Meek (Fla.) and 43-year-old Rep. Ron Kind (Wis.).

Sabo also has confidence in his replacement, Doyle, whom Sabo personally hand-picked.

Doyle, who has played catcher since first suiting up for the Democrats in 1995, has “got a skill for the game and also a feel for the game,” Sabo told Roll Call in April.

Hopefully, Doyle and his team will do far better than the Twins did that day in May — they lost 5-3.

For his part, Sabo said he predicts good things.

“The Democrats will win,” he said.

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