From the Dan’s Archive: Writers Outlast the Artists in East Hampton’s Annual Softball Game

Warren Brandt, manager of the Artist's softball team, painted an oil painting on the seat of his shorts before putting them on. Remember, you first saw it in Dan's Papers. Willie Morris and Eugene McCarthy show the form that failed to earn either of them names such as "Babe" or "Spike," Photos and caption from The East Hampton Summer Sun September 11, 1975 issue
Warren Brandt, manager of the Artist's softball team, painted an oil painting on the seat of his shorts before putting them on. Remember, you first saw it in Dan's Papers. Willie Morris and Eugene McCarthy show the form that failed to earn either of them names such as "Babe" or "Spike," Photos and caption from "The East Hampton Summer Sun" September 11, 1975 issue

This year, the annual Artists & Writers Charity Softball Game celebrated its 72nd anniversary not with a game, but with a GoFundMe campaign for local nonprofits—the Eleanor Whitmore Early Childhood Center, The Retreat, Phoenix House and East End Hospice. The 2020 fundraiser, competitive as always, has the artists in the lead with $9,100 raised to the writers’ $8,560 raised (at the time of writing). This Throwback Thursday, travel back in time with Dan to the 1975 game, when the writers were nigh unbeatable, then decide whether you want to support the game’s original superstars or the underdogs turned serious contenders at charity.gofundme.com.

This article ran in the September 11, 1975 issue of The East Hampton Summer Sun.

The man with the bull horn stood up along the first base line and stared out at the sweaty ballplayers walking in from the field. It was hot and muggy and seven o’clock. He turned to the few hundred people still sitting in the grass there and said the following:

“Okay, ladies and gentlemen, here are the final results. The writers have 18 runs, 29 hits and seven errors; the artists have 15 runs, 26 hits and 11 errors. I hope you’ve all had a nice afternoon.”

It had been a long day. And it was time for a drink.

The pretty girls, sitting in the bleachers in their bikinis, the photographers from New York Magazine, The Soho News, The Times, and wherever else they came from, the various artists and painters with famous names, out there in jeans and sneakers for a local charity, the families with their dogs and cats, all of them, stopped talking softball, and started talking cocktails, dinner, theater and parties.

They wandered away from the sandlot hall field, down to the parking lot in front of the East Hampton A & P, past the water fountain, past the swings, and found their cars parked where they had left them. It had been a singularly unexciting, long, hot, drawn out softball game. But then, sometimes, these things happen.

*   *   *

The annual Artists & Writers Charity Softball Game in East Hampton has become a major event of the social season here. I don’t think this is because of the large numbers of celebrities who participate in the game, although this is somewhat of a factor. Nor do I think it is because the game has been covered by Time magazine, or The New York Times, or any other publications, although it has. What I think has brought this game to prominence over the years has been the simple repetitive fact that year after year, a hunch of overweight, hard-drinking writers with names such as Willie Morris, Peter Maas and Harry Minitree, could consistently defeat an equally overweight, hard-drinking bunch of East End artists. To beat them once would be fine. Even twice, or three times. But by the time it came around to play the annual game last summer, the writers had beaten the artists in every single year that they had played. A total of six years all together. Even Psychology Today magazine was beginning to get interested in this phenomenon.

For this reason, the seventh game of the series between the artists and writers, last summer, was held amidst an even greater amount of interest. And when the dust had cleared and the artists had finally vindicated themselves by the score of 10 to 1, it seemed like the grand climax had finally arrived. This year’s game, therefore, was bound to be anti-climactic.  And it most certainly was. The writers took a slight lead in the early going, stayed slightly ahead through a variety of errors, hits and flubs, and were never challenged. After what seemed an interminable amount of line drives to left field, balls thrown into the crowd, arguments with the umpire, and dusty slides into home plate, the two teams parted company with the writers still slightly ahead, 18 to 15.

*   *   *

It had not started out looking like such a long, drawn out afternoon. At three o’clock, a number of the so-called “heavies” began arriving to participate in the batting practice that preceded the actual game. There was Eugene McCarthy, the former senator, in sneakers and jeans. There was Tom Paxton, the folk singer, and Carl Stokes, the newscaster from NBC. A good many of these people hadn’t held a bat in hand since the same time one year ago, and they were anxious to see if they could still get the bat to meet the ball.

There was a very serious line next to home plate, where the ballplayers could wait their turn to hit a few balls out. There was also a very serious line along the sidelines, where any number of up-and-coming writers lobbied to see that they got to play in this softball game.

“What do I have to write to get in this game?” one prospect asked.

“Sex novels,” came the reply.

Another prospective ballplayer, introduced as a friend of a friend, asked if he could play third base.

“What have you written?” he was asked.

“Well, a lot of bad checks.”

He played two innings.

New this year were about half a dozen newspaper photographers, mostly attractive women, who flitted around trying to take pictures of the people playing in the game. Word had leaked out that NEW YORK MAGAZINE would be there in force, as they were planning a whole feature on the writers of the Hamptons. (This appeared a week later, in their issue of September 1.). As a result, people such as writer Peter Maas, actor Eli Wallach, or novelist James Jones, spent a good deal of their time standing on the third base lines, trying not to move while a photographer adjusted his focal length. It rendered a sort of supernatural quality to the game. As for the game itself, I do recall it as something of a blur. Perhaps, standing on the third base line with the sun in my eyes as I did for most of the game, I got a little addled. I do recall Eugene McCarthy slamming a single to left and then knocking down the artist first baseman with a hefty shoulder block as they tried to throw him out.

“And they say I lack aggressiveness,” he said.

I recall some confusion at home plate on a number of occasions, and I recall a number of controversial decisions by the umpire, Jake Murray, in which I felt Jake was generally right and the protestants generally wrong.

“The umpire will be Jake Murray,” the announcer, Hugh King, had said at the start. “unless the game gets out of hand and the artists start winning.”

Wait till next year.

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