So, You Want to Be a Manager?
Skippers of Congressional Teams Balance Their Duties
Ever wonder what the conversation is like when a coach comes out to the mound to calm down a struggling pitcher?
When it comes to the Annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game, Rep. Joe Barton (Texas), the Republican coach, said he occasionally tries to take his player’s mind off the game by throwing a political curve ball.
“When am I going to get your leadership [political action committee] donation?— he’ll ask.
Or maybe, “How come you didn’t vote for my amendment last week?—
Other times the GOP skipper tries to light a fire under his players.
“Are you naturally stupid or do you work at it?—
And when he feels the need to inspire, Barton said he tries to recall his favorite lines from the seminal baseball movie “Bull Durham.—
Welcome to the world of the Congressional baseball coach, sometimes referred to as the most unique job in all of sports.
For one night a year in Washington, D.C., representative democracy takes a back seat to absolute monarchy as Members of Congress place all decision-making power into the hands of one man.
And when a substitution gets made and if a player gets benched, there’s no debate, no vote and no motion to recommit.
The coach’s word is law.
“I made it clear from day one that I was playing my best players, and I decide who they are,— said Rep. Mike Doyle (Pa.), the Democratic manager. “This isn’t Little League where everybody plays two innings. … This is hardball. This is Washington, D.C. We’re trying to beat the Republicans.—
Doyle and Barton are veterans of the annual Capitol Hill baseball contest, and each got his start in coaching by managing Little League teams in his hometown.
Doyle, who guided a few of his sons’ Protect Our Nation’s Youth League teams when they were younger, said managing Members of Congress isn’t much different from coaching kids.
“The Members of Congress whine more,— he said.
But Doyle, who has been part of the game for 12 years and has gone 0-3 since taking over as coach, said the Congressional game’s somewhat unique unlimited substitution rule makes the coach’s job particularly important.
“You can literally build a roster that says, here’s my hitters, here’s my fielders, here’s my runners, and interchange them,— Doyle said. “The nine guys you put into the field may not be the same nine guys you have at bat.—
Barton is now in his 22nd year with the Republican team and has earned a 2-0 record since taking over the reins from former Rep. Mike Oxley (Ohio) after the 2006 contest.
Despite a perfect record, Barton knows he has big shoes to fill.
All four of the coaches for whom he has played — GOP Reps. Silvio Conte (Mass), Dan Schaefer (Colo.), Carl Pursell (Mich.) and Oxley — have gone on to be inducted into the Roll Call Congressional Baseball Hall of Fame and, more importantly, contributed to a tradition of Republican dominance in the game.
[IMGCAP(1)]In the past 47 years, Republicans have won 10 best-of-five series to the Democrats’ two.
But if the history of all those coveted Roll Call trophies weighs heavily on Barton’s shoulders, he doesn’t show it.
At a recent early morning practice for this year’s game, the Republican squad was well into its warm-ups before Barton even arrived at the field.
With a team full of veterans, Barton wasn’t worried that his squad would be lost without him there to get practice started on time.
Besides, Barton knew that his loyal No. 2, Rep. John Shimkus (Ill.), already had things well in hand.
Teammates describe Shimkus as a player-manager, the man who runs practice so Barton remains free to evaluate talent and contemplate strategy.
Freshman Rep. Duncan Hunter (Calif.), who served two combat tours in Iraq and another in Afghanistan before being elected to Congress last fall, likened the setup to his experience in the Marine Corps.
“Shimkus is the first sergeant. He yells a lot and pushes us in the direction that the commanding officer wants to go,— Hunter said.
Shimkus said the structure is beneficial to the team’s success.
“I appreciate Joe allowing me to … structure practice so he can watch and observe,— Shimkus said. “He makes the calls on the field. On his shoulders rests the burdens of this game.—
Barton’s managerial decisions will be particularly important this year as retirements and bids for other offices have left him without his starters at first base and third base and a key pinch hitter from last year’s winning team.
“These guys are all competitors. They all want to play. And sometimes you’ve got to say, I’m the manager and you’re not,’— Barton said. “I get paid the big bucks to make the tough decisions.—
For instance, halfway through a recent GOP practice, Hunter — the highly touted freshman who some believe will be the backbone of the GOP pitching squad after Shimkus retires — came over to Barton holding his elbow.
“My arm hurts,— Hunter said, looking urgently to his skipper for some guidance on how to handle the unexpected turn of events.
Barton glanced over at Hunter and, without hesitation, made the kind of snap decision that could be the difference between victory and defeat come game day.
“Stop pitching,— Barton said.