Artists Vs. Writers: Herrick Park Change Could Disrupt This Sacred Game

The Artists & Writers Game in Herrick Park
The Artists & Writers Game in Herrick Park, Photo: Daniel Gonzalez

The Village of East Hampton is thinking of doing a complete remodeling of Herrick Park, the large public park behind the stores in the center of downtown. In it today are playgrounds, ballfields, tennis courts and walkways. Now there will be changes. A proposal made to the trustees a week ago got an enthusiastic thumbs-up. Parts of this project might get underway by spring.

The plan calls for the moving of the tennis courts, the children’s playground, the softball field and the basketball court. Pickleball courts will be added. New walkways will be created.

Wait. Did I say the softball field will be moved? Yes, the place where the single most important event in the park takes place every summer, the annual Artists and Writers Softball Game, is going to get messed with. The game has been played on the park’s softball field behind the Stop & Shop for nearly 70 years. It is a sacred location there. If it is to be moved, this is a very big deal.

Who can forget singer Paul Simon leaping up at the left field snow fence to steal a home run one year and coming down to impale his back atop the wooden pickets of the fence. People rushed out to save him, but it was unnecessary. He was fine.

Bill Clinton and Dan Rattiner
Bill Clinton and Dan Rattiner

Who can forget Bill Clinton umpiring behind the pitcher’s mound and calling balls and strikes. He did it in two different years, one before his presidency, one after.

Soccer legend Pelé played in this game. Woody Allen played in the game. Painter Jackson Pollock played in this game, as did Willem de Kooning. TV anchor Peter Jennings played, as did TV host Dick Cavett.

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Who can forget Alan Alda banging a bat on home plate after a pitch in the dirt was called a strike. Artist Larry Rivers played in this game. Actor Roy Scheider, comedian Chevy Chase, model Christie Brinkley, Broadway star Gwen Verdon, novelists Irwin Shaw, Avery Corman, E.L. Doctorow, Tom Wolfe and James Salter, playwright Neil Simon, both Woodward and Bernstein, Kurt Vonnegut, folk singer Tom Paxton and hippie Abbie Hoffman, who stole first after a strike two was called on him at bat. Betty Friedan, a pioneer of the Women’s Movement, played short center field soon after writing The Feminine Mystique.

In recent years, the game has featured sportswriter Mike Lupica at shortstop, Alec Baldwin in right field and investor Carl Icahn as a pinch hitter. Rudy Giuliani called balls and strikes at two of the games. And for years there were pitchers duels between Roy Scheider and New York Daily News owner Mort Zuckerman. One year US Supreme Court Judge Steven Breyer was the umpire.

Besides the towering home runs over the left field fence and into the tennis courts hit by Marty Lyons, Tom Clohessy, John Longmire, Rudy Hoglund, Lee Minetree and many others, perhaps the most exciting play in any Artist-Writers game occurred the year Superman won the game for the Artists in the bottom of the ninth.

Chevy Chase at the Artists and Writers Game
Chevy Chase at the Artists and Writers Game, Photo: Dan’s Papers Archive

About 300 spectators were in the stands. The game was tied, 6-6. There were two out and the late Christopher Reeve (Superman in the movies) was on second. Paul Simon hit a single through the hole into left field, Reeve took off, rounded third and headed for home, but the throw from left fielder Uri Berliner seemed sure to get him. At home waiting for the ball was catcher Roger Podd, and pitcher Mort Zuckerman who had drifted over. But when the two saw Superman go into his slide, they were still juggling the ball and so missed the tag. But Superman’s slide missed the plate. And he knew it, so he leaped up, ran over and stomped back onto the plate safe for the win.

Yes, the Artist-Writers game will be moved, if this work starts soon, to a spot where the tennis courts are now. And the tennis courts will be moved to the hallowed ground where the game is.

Say it ain’t so, Joe, as one of the fans cried out to Joe Jackson of the Chicago White Sox, accused of throwing the World Series in 1919.

To paraphrase Lou Gerhig in 1937, who told the crowd, “I am the luckiest man on the face of the Earth” standing there on home plate in Yankee Stadium, many batters have stood by a similar home plate in East Hampton to enjoy the happiest day of their lives.

And like the House that Ruth built, where DiMaggio and Mantle and so many others played, the Artist-Writers ball field has to stay. Or if it has to go to be removed, there needs to be a monument about it erected on the spot, even if tennis players run into it from time to time. It would read, well, frankly, I am too teared up to know exactly.

I, for one, am not taking this lying down.

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