Setting aside for a moment the desire to leave the politics out of the Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game, it wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that election cycles have a way of shaking up the annual hardball battle more drastically than injuries, aging or weight gain ever could.
A coach may wake on the morning after Election Day to find that his entire roster has been decimated, leaving him a long offseason to contemplate how to stitch the remaining pieces back together. Or on the flip side, a team in a slump can hit the recruiting jackpot at the ballot box and literally change its athletic fortunes overnight.
That's why any true fan of Congressional baseball will be watching the 2010 midterm elections with keen interest this year.
As the Nov. 2 elections draw near, an analysis of each team's roster shows that the Republican squad has a much better shot at remaining intact by the time the 2011 game rolls around. In what is surely a reflection of the Republican-friendly political environment that has come to define the 2010 election cycle, every Member of the GOP squad who is up for re-election in 2010 is currently sitting in a Safe Republican district, according to Roll Call race ratings.
In fact, the biggest holes in the Republican roster this year have come from Members running for higher office. Reps. Zach Wamp (Tenn.) and Gresham Barrett (S.C.) are two potential Congressional baseball Hall of Fame candidates who are skipping this year's game because they were in the midst of tough gubernatorial campaigns back home while their colleagues practiced.
Democrats, meanwhile, will enter the fall elections with the potential for mass turnover.
Two Democrats, Reps. Brian Baird (Wash.) and Bart Stupak (Mich.), have already announced their plans to retire at the end of their terms, and of the 28 Democratic players who are running for re-election, just 12 currently sit in seats that Roll Call rates as Safe Democratic. Luckily for Democrats — who in 2009 won their first game in nine outings — the brains of their clubhouse appear safe. The team's three coaches, Reps. Mike Doyle (Pa.), Bill Pascrell (N.J.) and Ed Perlmutter (Colo.), are among those dozen Democrats who should have no trouble earning another term.
But the rest of the squad has work to do on the political front if they want to be around to see the 50th anniversary of the Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game.
As of press time, six Democrats sat in seats that Roll Call rates as likely to remain in Democratic hands this fall. Among that group are Rep. Christopher Murphy (Conn.), who scored a pair of runs in the 2009 game, and Rep. Heath Shuler (N.C.), the former NFL quarterback who Democrats hope will be a power hitter if he can just make contact with the ball. (Shuler was hitless in three at-bats last year.)
Five Democratic players have the even tougher job of holding seats that Roll Call rates in the more competitive category of Leans Democratic. Those Members include Reps. Tim Bishop (N.Y.), John Boccieri (Ohio), Christopher Carney (Pa.), Ben Chandler (Ky.) and Bill Owens (N.Y.), who is making his first appearance for the team after winning a special election last fall.
But those Members are still better off from a political standpoint than the five Democrats who are working to hold on to seats that Roll Call ranks in the most competitive category of Tossup. Those five are Reps. Michael Arcuri (N.Y), Steve Driehaus (Ohio), Frank Kratovil (Md.), Glenn Nye (Va.) and Mark Schauer (Mich.).
Asked about the potential for significant turnover, Doyle said he remains confident that his team will stay intact in the offseason.
"I think all of our guys are coming back," he said.
But Doyle also acknowledged he's doing everything he can this fall to ensure that outcome.
"Every one of my starters that's in a competitive race has gotten money from me, that's for sure," he said.
As far as the lack of competitive races for the players in the Republican dugout, Doyle said he wasn't surprised that the GOP squad is made up of only Members in safe seats.
After the Democratic wave elections of 2006 and 2008, "they have no one left to lose," he said. "The starting team that beat us many, many years in a row, that's gone."
According to a Roll Call analysis of previous rosters, the GOP squad lost 11 players because of retirement or electoral defeat during the 2006 and 2008 election cycles. That group includes former Congressional baseball stars such as Hall of Fame coach Mike Oxley (Ohio), and celebrated fielders such as Chip Pickering (Miss.) and Virgil Goode (Va.).
Rep. John Shimkus (Ill.), a veteran of the Republican squad, acknowledged that the GOP squad is older than the Democratic team and that he's hoping the 2010 elections help even the gap.
"I think it's time for us to bring in some young bodies who can run, throw and hit," Shimkus said.
Fortunately for Shimkus and his team, there are several Republican Congressional candidates this cycle who have the potential to immediately become impact players in 2011 if they make it to Congress.
Former NFL offensive lineman Jon Runyan (R) is running in a competitive New Jersey district while fellow former NFLer Clint Didier is earning some support from conservative groups in his long-shot bid for the GOP Senate nomination in Washington.
In Pennsylvania, Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta (R), who once tried out for Major League Baseball's Cincinnati Reds, is back for another shot at a Congressional seat after losing to Rep. Paul Kanjorski by just 4 points in 2008.
And in Wisconsin's open 7th district seat, Ashland County District Attorney and professional lumberjack Sean Duffy has a decent shot at flipping the district into the GOP column this fall. If he does, Republicans probably won't wait long before getting Duffy to trade in his ax for a baseball bat in the hopes that he'll take a few swings at bringing the party closer to a coveted Roll Call trophy in 2011.