The annual Artist and Writers Softball Game takes place this Saturday at 2 p.m. on the sandlot field in Herrick Park in downtown East Hampton.
It was started in 1948 at a picnic on the front yard of artist Wilfrid Zogbaum’s home in Springs. Zogbaum had invited a few friends over. Among those playing were Willem de Kooning, Philip Pavia, Franz Kline and Joan Mitchell. There were dogs, a ball being thrown around and lots of food and conversation. They did not call it the Artist and Writers Softball Game then. Nobody kept score. It was just a bunch of guys and girls, artists and sculptors, throwing a ball around.
This became an annual affair in the years that followed, though, as in the Dark Ages, no records were kept. A pre-Renaissance glimmer came in 1954 when it was reported that gallery owner Leo Castelli, Howard Kanovitz and Esteban Vicente played. Then things sunk back again into the Dark Ages.
Rules got established in 1966. There would be three strikes and you’re out. There would be four bases. The game would be held in the park behind the Waldbaums supermarket in East Hampton as of 1968. And the Writers insisted on playing in 1966, making up their own team challenging the Artists. And that was a big mistake. The Artists lost every game except five for the next 20 years, sometimes by such lopsided scores as 21–2. What was the explanation for this? One theory was that the Writers admired such people as Ernest Hemingway, a hard drinking adventurer and world traveler who spent most of his time outdoors. Meanwhile, the Artists saw themselves as paint-covered geniuses who drank a lot, wenched, worked indoors in barns, hardly knew how to swing a bat and rarely saw the light of day.
Soon, the game began to change. Indeed, the Hamptons changed. Celebrities were “artists.” Actors and producers were “artists.” One year the East Hampton Village Police Chief played as an “artist.” Those in Hollywood or on Broadway or rock stars, who sang and danced and played superheroes, could play as well as or better than the writers. By 1980, the Artists had caught up, although in some years the games had been true nailbiters. Since then it has turned into a hilarious melee of a wonderful game.
Here is just a partial list of the many hundreds who have played in this game over the years. 1960s and 1970s: Irwin Shaw, Larry Rivers, George Plimpton, Abbie Hoffman, James Jones, Senator Eugene McCarthy, Betty Friedan, Former Cleveland Mayor Carl Stokes, Neil Simon, Tom Paxton, Tom Wolfe. 1980s and 1990s: E. L. Doctorow, Dick Cavett, Bill Clinton, Christopher Reeve, Mort Zuckerman, Roy Scheider, Christie Brinkley, Pele, Chevy Chase, Alan Alda, Peter Jennings, Alec Baldwin, boxer Jerry Cooney, Jay McInerney, Eli Wallach, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. 2000 to present day: Eartha Kitt, Rudy Giuliani, hockey star Rod Gilbert, Carl Bernstein, Bianca Jagger.
Here are a few whose efforts at the game have spanned the decades: Elaine Benson, Tom Clohessy, Mike Lupica, Lee Minitree, Eric Ernst, Jeff Meizlik, Richard Wiese, Ed Hollander, Ken Auletta. And then, of course, there is Leif Hope, who has played in the game, coached for the artists and been the heart and soul organizing the game since the early years.
Woody Allen may or may not have played, or maybe just showed up, or we just thought he showed up. Somebody should ask him.
The longest home runs ever hit are believed to have been sent off into the far reaches of the tennis courts by former Jets linebacker Marty Lyons, Tom Clohessy, Lee Minetree and Richard Wiese. Apologies to others.
For the record, this author, still at the game, first played in it in 1969, and then began umpiring it around 1977.