The Artist & Writers Game was held last Saturday afternoon on the softball field in back of the Stop & Shop in East Hampton. The Writers, as they often do, won. But it wasn’t easy.
For one thing, there was all the folderol that preceded the game. I don’t remember any time during the 69 previous annual encounters that the Game got called on account of rain. But here it looked like it might happen. Predictions were that thunder and lightning and a terrible downpour would scatter everybody just 45 minutes into the game. So it was decided to start early and play fast.
A coin was tossed. Actress Lori Singer threw out the first ball. Mayor Rickenbach delivered an uncharacteristically brief speech from the pitcher’s mound, extolling the charities being benefitted. And the 200 or so players and spectators kept looking skyward.
Finally, it seemed the Game would begin. The Writers were at their positions in the field. But wait. Someone had brought a recording of Aretha Franklin singing the “Star Spangled Banner.” It was the particular time she stretched out her rendition to nearly five minutes, savoring every note, every arpeggio, every rise and every fall. We all stood there, stock still in our places, caps over our hearts full of respectful silence for the country and the late singer, waiting for this thing to get done, which, finally, it did.
“Play ball,” the cry went up.
The pitcher, writer Benito Vila, threw the softball easy and underhand and the Artists’ first batter, Lonnie Quinn, hit a long foul ball, over some trees and into the children’s playground area of East Hampton’s Herrick Park. But nobody moved to go there and bring it back. No one in the playground area was forthcoming with the ball, either. So we all just stood there. The clouds rumbled. No one ever did either fetch that ball or bring it back.
“Where’s another ball?” someone shouted. A hunt began. Another ball was identified and brought out to the mound, and Vila was able to continue. One out. Two outs, a single by Chris Wragge. Then a third out from Eddie McCarthy.
Blood was drawn in the bottom of the first. Three runs scored. Sportscaster Mike Lupica grounded out. Vila singled, David Baer singled. And then someone took his turn at bat who I did not know. At this game, both the Artists, in grey shirts, and the Writers, in blue shirts, had their names written on the back. This person, a man with a four-day growth of beard and black curly hair wearing blue jeans and a black undershirt with no name on the back, grabbed a bat and came to the plate.
On the second pitch from Artist Walter Bernard, this batter hit the ball over the left field fence and into the Herrick Park tennis court, farther than anyone had hit the ball in years. He jogged around the bases. A three-run homer. But who was he?
I asked a few people. Nobody knew exactly. Someone said he went by “Andy.” I suggested he might have been some guy who came out of the Park Place Wines & Liquors store across the parking lot and just walked up and whacked it. Had he left? He hadn’t. I cornered him at the end of the inning. He was, he said when pressed, indeed “Andy.” But now, the next inning was about to begin and he trotted off. It was Mystery Man three, Artists zero.
And so it goes, as hitter Kurt Vonnegut used to say when he played in this game back in the ’80s.
By the end of the second inning, the score was Writers 5, Artists 1. It seemed it might be a runaway. Anyway, the thunderclouds were closing in. Is it true that they only go to the scorecards if they complete four innings? Maybe that’s in boxing.
Here were some highlights of the game.
Alec Baldwin, who had to host an event at the John Drew Theater at 4 p.m., showed up early to wish everybody luck and then left.
Actress Lori Singer hit a single for the Artists in the fifth inning and scored a run. But at the end of that inning, she realized that somehow running the bases, her car keys had disappeared and so led a hunt for them, which, after a troubled while, turned them up.
Carl Bernstein, of Watergate fame, played catcher for the Writers and, though no slugger, nevertheless conducted himself well.
Artist Ed Hollander hit a triple to lead off the seventh, which brought the score to Writers 10, Artists 7. It was turning into a good game. And still the thunderclouds held off.
Brian Pfund, an Artist who had won the Home Run Derby that preceded the game, failed to hit one during the game. But he hit two doubles and scored.
Two pitchers, Writer Harry Javer and Artist John Longmire, began to illegally fast pitch in the sixth. Calling balls and strikes behind the mound, I told Javer to cut it out and if he didn’t I’d have to do something about it. Later, I told umpire Richard Lowe that if John Longmire continued, he should throw him out of the game. He agreed. Both pitchers responded to our threats.
Writer Rick Leventhal belted a home run for the Writers in the third. Artist Peter Cestaro made a spectacular diving catch for the Artists at shortstop to cut a Writer rally short in the middle innings.
The Mystery Man, who by this time had identified himself as Andy Friedman, an essayist sometimes featured in The New Yorker, hit a single and then scored in the bottom of the eighth to seal the victory for the Writers at 12 to 8. And after it was over, game organizer and painter Leif Hope announced Friedman as “The Player of the Game.”
I was umpire behind the pitcher, calling balls and strikes for several innings. I then handed the ball off to State Supreme Court Judge Ed Lowe, who umpired a while. Also calling balls and strikes for an inning was former United States Attorney General Michael Mukasey.
There were two remarkable plays. In the fourth, the Writer Dan Pulick, who scored from second on a hit to left, was accused by umpire Michael Mukasey, the aforementioned former U.S. Attorney General, of having failed to step on third base as he came through. A melee ensued, ended by an agreement to have that umpire’s decision appealed to a higher umpire’s court, which resulted in a ruling upholding the earlier decision. An 11th run was thus expunged from the record books, leaving the Writer’s total temporarily at 10.
The other interesting thing is hard to explain. I was umpiring at first base and had a good view of a right fielder, who shall remain nameless, chasing down a lazy fly ball. He chased it down and chased it down, concluded he would never catch it and so gave up, stopped and brought his glove down to his side, at which point the ball arrived and much to his surprise came down behind him to plop into his mitt. He had misjudged where it would come down. He was amazed at his good fortune.
After the game was over, everybody repaired to the bar at Dopo La Spiaggia for a further discussion of the game.
Ten minutes later, it began to rain.