Father and son Dan Greenburg and Zack O’Malley Greenburg talk life on and off the field in anticipation of the Artists & Writers Charity Softball Game.
See the duo play at this year’s game on Saturday, August 20 at Herrick Park in East Hampton. Batting practice starts at noon and the first pitch goes out at 2 p.m.
Visit artistswritersgame.org for more info.
Tell me about your relationship to softball.
Do you play?
I don’t actually. I don’t play. I’m not even relatively good at softball.
Well, neither am I. Were you born here?
Ok, so you know that growing up in America, the only way that boys judge your worth as a human being is by how good you are at baseball. And when I was in gym class or summer camp, the teams, they literally fought over me. They said, “you can’t give us Greenburg! We had to take him last time!” I was not a good player.
That’s very interesting because I’m told that you’ve been playing in the game since the ’90s. Did they fight over you?
I think in the same way, yes. The thing is, now I can only be on the writers team—although, before I became a writer, I was an artist. I was an art director, an illustrator, a cartoonist. And then I read Catcher in the Rye, and it blew my mind and I said, that’s what I want to do. So, I became a writer and I enjoy it a lot more than I did as a designer, cartoonist, art director or anything like that.
So, you switched sides?
Yeah, I switched sides.
I’m all for it. This clearly means you have been playing in the game for many years. How did you first learn about the East Hamptons softball game?
Oh, just living in East Hampton. I had a house in East Hampton for about 20 years. From, I would say the ’70s to the ’90s back before it was really popular, in fact. I was there even after, what I thought should be the time to move, which was one very barren winter we were there and I couldn’t find a parking place in the A & P parking lot. I knew it was a sign that the golden days of East Hampton were at an end. But I stayed on until I had to go through a divorce and the house had to be sold in the process of the divorce and so on. I loved East Hampton, but you know. Along comes life.
And you say the game was pretty popular and you just heard about it?
It was popular, and that’s what one did when one lived in East Hampton. If one was an artist or a writer, one played in the game. And I think the deal was, that they had to use me for two innings or something. But it was never like, “If only we could get Dan to play!” It was more like, “…I don’t know, do we have to use Dan?”
It’s 2017 now, what would you say are some of the biggest differences you can recall from when you first started playing in the game vs now?
Oh, one of the biggest differences, but this has been going on for some time—though not in the first few years, is the appearance of ringers. That is to say, professional baseball players. That started after about, I would guess, and this only a guess, the first two to five years. Then they started saying, “Who is that guy? God, he’s really good!” “Oh, that’s so and so.” “Oh, okay. No wonder…”
Do you think that has anything to do with the games growing popularity over the years?
I think so. And, you know there’s no money at stake in who wins. It got to be a lot more competitive than it was and I got a lot more nervous when I would get up to bat.
Well, it seems to me, the only thing you really win is bragging rights for the next year.
Yeah. But big, BIG, bragging. Now Zack, on the other hand, is an incredibly good player. And that isn’t just me as a father talking. I think he really is a good player.
Yes, Zack! I’m speaking with him on Monday, but why don’t you tell me about him.
You know what he won’t tell you—I can brag about him, he won’t do this—you know he’s entertainment editor at Forbes, right?
He’s a friend of all of the big hip-hop stars. Do you know that because of his interest in hip-hop and his interviewing them, the hip-hop stars bring Zack their new projects at Forbes, which is you know, a white-shoe billionaire’s magazine, rather than to Rolling Stone.
Really? He’s very good at what he does then.
Yeah, they just love him. He also is sort of, I would say better at easing Middle East tensions than Jared Kushner. Zack would never tell you this, but he organized two concerts in Jerusalem, that featured Israeli and Palestinian rappers in an effort to bring them together. He’s done that twice. And he’s always been such a great mediator among people. I’m very prejudiced, but he is a great guy.
It’s always good to hear that the game is composed of people who do such meaningful work off the field. This brings me to my next question: I was told that your son would be playing in the game this year.
I’m sure he will be. He did last year. I think he’s been playing for several years.
That’s interesting because there was a rumor going around that you two would be playing at the same time this year. Has that happened before?
As I recall, we were a little late getting there last year so I barely had time to do any batting practice. But you know, they don’t really like to put in players unless they have a lot of ability and they’re really going to help them.
I guess it really is as competitive as you say it is.
It’s very competitive. It’s very competitive. I don’t say that as a bad thing. It’s just how it is.
I was told way in the beginning that the game was just a game and it morphed into this massive charity event with big name sponsors like HBO and Snapple, with celebrities coming every so often. The purpose ultimately of the game is to act as a charity that donates to life services on the East End.
This is recent. Or certainly wasn’t a part of it when I was playing. It became a big thing, but in the beginning, it was as you say, it was just a fun game between artists and writers.
What are your personal views on this event impacting the local community?
I think it’s great that it can earn money for good causes, it just changes the complexion of the game is all.
In what way, would you say?
You know when competition becomes really intense, some of the values go by the wayside. I truly haven’t been to that game for years and years so I don’t know anything about it other than what I’ve known. What I remember is running into people I hadn’t seen in years being very happy about the game. I ran into Carl Bernstein, who I hadn’t seen in years, and all kinds of people that I knew from the Hamptons that really I hadn’t seen in years. It was a very happy experience for me because I got to see old friends.
When you do get to play, is there a position that you play best at?
I’m generally put in the least important position, the place where the ball lands least often.
Would this game technically qualify as “father-son time?” How often do you get to spend time with Zack?
I spend a lot of time with Zack. Actually, quite a lot. We either have dinner, the four of us—he and his wife and me and my wife, Judith. We also have man dinners, you know? We try to do it once a month. And it’s not that we have any secrets from our wives, it’s just that sometimes a guy likes to talk to a guy, as a guy. I consider him one of my best friends, which is wonderful.
How do you foresee this year’s game going against the Artists? What would you like to see happen on the field this year?
I would like to see the Writers win in a close game. Close games are always fun. But I’m not going to be crying if we lose.
I suppose that’s fair.
You know one of the greatest experiences—well, that’s overselling it—when Zack was, well there was a period of years where he and I were big Yankees fans and we used to go to their games. One of the great experiences that sticks out in my mind of learning life lessons: Zack and I went to a double-header between the Yankees and the Cleveland Indians. Those were just truly exciting games. The score kept see-sawing back and forth, back and forth. First the Yankees were one or two runs ahead, then the Indians would catch up and be two runs ahead, then two runs behind. We saw some of the most incredible plays you’ve ever seen. And the most incredible home runs. People were going crazy. But, at the end of each game, the Yankees lost. Zack and I were leaving the ballpark and people were swearing and pounding the walls in anger. And I said, “I want you to notice something, Zack—these people are really angry and upset, but you and I just saw two of the greatest baseball games ever played and that’s what’s important. And he got it, immediately! And he refers to it now. And it was a real life lesson, it was so important for us.
I feel like, not a lot of people understand that sentiment, who probably should.
That’s what I think. I think there should be more of that feeling in games.
Over anything else.
Yeah! It’s the fun of the game, the excitement, the see-sawing of the leads. It’s how well people are playing. We saw people playing better than they ever had before. Incredible catches! Some players hit two or three home runs in the same game. There were home runs with bases loaded. I gotta tell you, baseball is not the most exciting sport to watch, generally speaking. It’s not as exciting as basketball or football to me, except in these kinds of games. That is real excitement.
Zack O’Malley Greenburg
I was under the impression that your father has been playing in the game very consistently, but he tells me you’ve actually been playing more than he has in the recent past.
Um. So, when I was little, he was the one who was playing. I was too young to play. But my first memories of knowing anything about the Artists and Writers Game were my dad playing when I was a toddler and my mom cheerleading. This was always to me, sort of the biggest deal of all time, because we would show up and the whole town would be there watching my dad play softball and I thought this was so immensely cool. But we sold our house in the mid-’90s and while I go back to visit friends every summer, dad goes back a little less frequently; but really since we moved, you know, he kind of stopped playing and it wasn’t until 2007 or 2008 and I started working full time at Forbes that I figured, “you know, why not try to play now that I’m officially a writer.” So, I’ve been going pretty much every year since then.
And, actually, last year was the first year that my dad had been out there in decades, to the game. That was when we went together and we both got our jerseys and hats and things.
That’s so cool. So, let me get this straight, he was out there last year, but did he play last year?
So. We both were on the roster. And he took batting practice (nervous laughter) I did not. But I got into the game and he did not. But he probably had more hits in batting practice than I had in the game.
That’s interesting because he told me—and your father raves about you, by the way, you are obviously the pride of his life—he says that he actually sucks at the game. That he would not hold it against anyone to not invite him back. But he says you’re a very good softball player.
Aw. Well, you know… I would say…I’m solid.
That’s a pretty good self-compliment, “I’m a solid player.”
I think he’s being very generous with his praise of my softball skills.
What position do you feel most comfortable at?
Infield. Generally, wherever. In the game, I’ve played first and second in the past. I usually play third for the Forbes softball team. But I understand there are people who have been playing there longer than I have.
You mentioned going and watching your father play as a child. What are the biggest differences then compared to now.
It’s kind of hard to really know the differences, because to me back then when I would go to those games, it was like the seventh game of the World Series at Yankee Stadium. But I think a lot of that was because I was five, you know? And in that way that things seem bigger and grander and you’re young and your dad is doing something really cool—it becomes this sort of global mega event in your mind. So, I have a hard time separating facts from reality.
What I’ve gathered from that is it is still this huge mega event.
Yeah! You know, I think if I were looking at it with those eyes, I would still see it the same way. To me now as an adult, it also seems like an incredible tradition I want to continue to be a part of. Although I acknowledge it’s maybe not the Super Bowl.
At one point, someone had referred to the game as a “celebrity” softball game versus a “charity” softball game and your father even noted that the presence of ringers was a new thing that he had not seen previously. Sometimes there are in fact celebrities, important people in the media who do important work playing in the game. Would you count you and/or your father as technically celebrities who participate?
Oh, no, no, no. I think we just write about famous people (nervous laughter). Then again, I wouldn’t really count us as ringers either. I think it’s funny because there are people that play, who are both celebrities and ringers. Jim Leyritz and John Franco would be pretty good examples of that.
You’ve obviously seen and played in the game more than a few times. What would you like to see most happen on the field this year?
A stunning late-inning come-from-behind victory for the Writers.
You and your father speak very highly of each other. Clearly, there’s a lot of love there.
Oh, yeah. He’s much funnier than I am. He does it professionally. He’s an incredible storyteller. What I later learned is that my dad sort of learned how to play softball later in life…so that he could teach me to play baseball and softball as a kid. When I was really little, he was learning, and by the time I was a toddler, or seven or eight, or whenever I started playing baseball, I just assumed he was always able to play. We would always go in the backyard and he would throw me pitches underhand and all that stuff. Little did I know, just a couple years earlier, he was furiously training just to be able to do that. I remember hearing he used to play in the Sag Harbor League on Sundays, which I guess is still going to this day, and a lot of the veterans there still remember him. He was even the Rookie of the Year in nineteen-eighty-something. I thought it was really cool to do that, at least in part, so he could play with me.
I couldn’t ask for a better father—on or off the softball field. In addition to learning how to play just so he could teach me as a youngster, my dad is the most loving and supportive father I can imagine. When I was a little kid, he would always say, “You’re the best boy a dad could have,” and I would say, “You’re the best dad a boy could have.” I can only hope that, whenever I have children of my own, we’ll be lucky enough to have that sort of relationship.
*Dan Greenburg is a writer, humorist and journalist. He has over 70 books published in 20 languages, including best-seller, How to Be a Jewish Mother. He adores his son, Zack and believes him to be a better mediator than Jared Kushner.
*Zack O’Malley Greenburg is a writer, journalist and current senior editor of media & entertainment at Forbes. He openly admits that he is not as funny as his father.