Play Ball! Artists Writers Game Is Back for Summer 2021

Dan and the Artists & Writers Game veterans
Dan with fellow Artists & Writers Game veterans, Photo: Barbara Lassen

Dan’s Papers is proud to sponsor the 73rd annual Artist & Writers Charity Softball Game, which is scheduled to return to Herrick Park on Newtown Lane in East Hampton at 3 p.m. on Saturday, August 21. Besides baseball that day, there will be food and drinks, a place for spectators, money raised for good causes and a whole lot of fun for all packed into nine innings.

This is the oldest annual softball game in the Hamptons. The first game was played in 1948 in the backyard of the home of artist Wilfrid Zogbaum in Springs, and it was attended by some of the greatest artists of the day. They included Franz Kline, Philip Pavia, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Joan Mitchell. It was a softball game without anyone keeping score. And it did include a small grapefruit painted white, which was swapped out with the real softball and pitched to de Kooning, who with a mighty swing, splattered it all over himself.

Paintings by some of these artists fetch as much as $100 million today when they go up for sale. Springs, at that time, had become the center of Abstract Expressionism, which took the art world by storm in the late 1940s and 1950s. The artists said the north light in Springs was unmatched for what they wanted to do.

The game was moved to a sandlot baseball diamond in Herrick Park in East Hampton in the 1960s. It has been played every year in that same spot since.

Over the years, a wide variety of artists, writers, billionaires, actors, actresses, directors and producers have played. There have also been politicians who have played, including presidential candidates and future presidents of the United States.

Attending, umpiring or playing over the years have been Paul Simon, Pele, Carl Ichan, Alec Baldwin, Bianca Jagger, Regis Philbin, Chevy Chase, Christie Brinkley, Mort Zuckerman, Laurie Singer, Ken Auletta, Bill Clinton, Alan Alda, Mike Lupica, Roy Scheider, Eli Wallach, James Jones, Rudolph Guiliani, Gwen Verdon, George Plimpton, Ben Bradlee, Matthew Broderick, Peter Jennings, Abbie Hoffman and Yogi Berra. Heavyweight challenger Jerry Cooney played for a couple of years. All have or have had places out here.

I have many memories of this game. I played for the Writers beginning in 1968, then got traded to the Artists in 1973. I think my lifetime record as a player was three singles in 14 at bats. Beginning around 1975, I began umpiring the game calling balls and strikes from behind the mound along with some of the “guest” umpires and other celebrities. I continue to do so.

Here are some memories I have, in no particular order.

The great songwriter and performer Paul Simon went back and back in deep left center field, leaped up and reaching over the snow fence, caught a towering drive, turning a home run into an out one year. He also fell to the ground, having first landed as he came down on the wooden snow fence that serves as the wall out there. People ran out there. Fortunately, he was only slightly injured. What a catch.

I once called Christie Brinkley out on strikes. She missed three, so we gave her a fourth and a fifth. Everybody wanted to see her run to first, but it was not to be that year.

One of the great heroes in American politics in the 1960s was Eugene McCarthy, the Wisconsin Senator, who challenged and then nearly beat sitting President Lyndon Johnson in a primary as he began his campaign to run for re-election. Johnson changed his mind about running after that encounter with McCarthy. He had been largely responsible for the disastrous Vietnam War. Four years later, Eugene McCarthy, in 1972 played first base for the writers. He was an editor at Random House at that time. He split the back of his shorts sliding into second in the fifth inning. He played the rest of the game that way.

Abbie Hoffman, the famous hippie, played in the game in 1972. He lived in these parts in those days. He took a ball and a strike and then “stole” first, then refused to leave. He got ejected from the game, tipping his hat as he jogged off.

For many years in the 1990s and 2000s, a great pitching duel took place every year between actor Roy Scheider for the Artists and billionaire Mort Zuckerman for the Writers. I called balls and strikes behind both of them. Zuckerman was fiery and short tempered. Scheider just had a lot of fun. Both were very good pitchers.

Actor Eli Wallach, standing ramrod straight in tennis whites at the age of 88, perfectly called balls and strikes for four innings without an error.

There have been plenty of umpire mistakes over the years. Probably the most difficult for me was one year when George Plimpton, playing first base, wandered over into the crowd sitting on the grass along the first base line to catch a high foul ball. As it came down, actress Lori Singer, who was playing for the Artists, stood up and knocked the ball away from him, leading to my calling it a foul ball, which I soon reversed to an out. That call cleared the sidelines in protest. But I stood my ground.

One year I very much enjoyed calling billionaire Carl Ichan out on strikes. He took the third one with the bat still on his shoulder. An excellent pitch it was, too.

We’ve played through rain squalls and blazing heat. One game went 17 innings. A number of the games have been featured in The New York Times and Time magazine.

Sportscasters narrate the game from a table behind the backstop. Banter goes back and forth. My favorite commentators over the years were PR genius John Scanlon and TV executive Sir Howard Stringer.

Here’s one exchange that came over the loudspeaker one year as writer Walter Isaacson came up to the plate.

Scanlon: Isaacson is much taller than he looks.

Stringer: Winner of four Pulitzer Prizes.

Scanlon: Author of Spinoza’s Ethics. Stringer: His works will be read long after Shakespeare’s are forgotten.

Scanlon: But not before.

After most of those games, all the players and umpires would walk up through the park to the Laundry Restaurant for beers on the patio and the announcement by Leif Hope of the player of the game.

One year, the announced winner had gone straight home without stopping at the restaurant. Leif had a monstrously large bottle of white wine, called a Jeroboam, for him. But since he wasn’t there, Leif gave it to me. I never even knew what a Jeroboam was. And it was quite a feat to get it out to my car.

Mark your calendar and come to the game. Who knows? Interested in getting to play? We have slots open. Write why to [email protected].