Thursday, June 28, 2012

Previewing the Congressional Baseball Game

If you're not familiar with the annual Congressional Baseball Game, you might want to reassess being a fan of this blog. Since 1909, the two American pastimes of politics and baseball have combined on one summer night a year when Democrats and Republicans face off on the diamond. This isn't a casual softball game, either; the throwing is overhand, the uniforms are authentic, and the game is played in a major-league park. The GOP holds the edge in the all-time series (41–36–1, though there are several years for which we have no records), but the Democrats have won three in a row. Unfortunately, the game isn't taken seriously enough for anyone to keep a sabermetrician's database of detailed statistics (quick, what's Harry Reid's WAR?), but old-school scouts will still be able to tell you what to look out for:

Who will win? The most obvious question is also the one with the most obvious answer. Because it's the Congressional Baseball Game, and not the Congressional Baseball Best-of-Seven Series, one dominant pitcher is usually enough to clinch victory. This year, that dominant pitcher is Cedric Richmond, a Louisianan who will toe the slab tonight for the Democrats. Last year, Richmond led the Democrats to an 8–2 victory, and there's no reason not to expect similar results this year. The overall rosters for the two years are also very similar—a function, of course, of the fact that 2011 and 2012 share the same members of the 112th Congress. Historically, the same team tends to win both games of a given session (of the 35 sessions we have full records for, the odd-even doubleheader was swept 24 times). And, while I personally don't place much stock in the idea that a veteran, playoff-tested team is at an advantage in the World Series, it's worth noting that the GOP squad is still packed with many baby-faced Tea Party freshmen.

Will Cedric Richmond throw a no-no? Last year, Richmond took a no-hitter into the sixth inning before finally settling for a complete-game, 13-strikeout two-hitter. A former player at Morehouse College, Richmond is one of the best players the CBG has seen in a long time—and, well, these batters aren't exactly major-league quality. I suspect some history could be in the making tonight. That said, though, Republicans claim that they have learned their lesson from last year and have been practicing to hit Richmond's nasty stuff.

Will someone hit it over the fence? Legend has it that, of all people, Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) is the only member to hit a legitimate, outside-the-park home run in the CBG, all the way back in 1979. Sadly, however, legend is wrong; while Paul was the first to do it, he was joined by fellow Republican John Shimkus (R-IL) in 1997. Still, two taters in 78 games (that we know of) is a pretty low rate, so Paul is probably deserving of his 2012 induction into the Congressional Baseball Game Hall of Fame. (Yes, there's a Congressional Baseball Game Hall of Fame.) But it does mean that, no, you are not likely to see any feats of Hamilton-esque proportions tonight.

Will there be any beanballs? Today, of course, is awkward timing for the Congressional Baseball Game; only nine hours before first pitch, the Supreme Court ruled to uphold the Affordable Care Act (otherwise known as Obamacare), setting off alternating waves of jubilation and fury in the halls of the Capitol. While the CBG is meant to promote bipartisan fun, it certainly comes on a day and in an era of unprecedented political polarization. Will any of that animosity spill out onto the field? And if so, could the game itself be in jeopardy?

Finally, what does it all mean for November? Maybe the better question is what November means for the game; tonight may be your last chance to see many players, such as Thad McCotter (R-MI) or Joe Donnelly (D-IN), who are retiring or may be designated for assignment by the voters of their district. (Donnelly is actually running for Senate, though he faces an uphill climb.) But their replacements could be even better—Florida Republican Ron DeSantis, who hopes to be the next congressman from the Florida Fourth, is a veteran of the Little League World Series. As for what it means for November, interestingly, the team that wins an even-numbered Congressional Baseball Game has succeeded at capturing or retaining control of the House later that year only 39% of the time; for the Senate, it's only 37% of the time. Clearly, losing the CBG is a significant electoral motivator.

The Congressional Baseball Game is tonight at Nationals Park in Washington, DC. First pitch is at 7:05pm. Tickets cost $10 and are available at

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