Up at Bat: Ken Auletta

Ken Auletta
Ken Auletta

In recognition of Dan’s presenting sponsorship of the East Hampton Artists & Writers Charity Softball Game on August 21, we are giving local artists and writers a free rein to write whatever they want in this space for the summer.

Remembering George Plimpton

I have many wonderful memories from the annual Artist & Writers softball game, but my favorite is of George Plimpton.

George Plimpton in the 1990 Artists & Writers Game
George Plimpton in the 1990 Artists & Writers Game

After his reflexes dulled, Plimpton switched from third to first base in the annual softball game in East Hampton. Sometime after age 70, he decided this was a game for men with less shame, and he took to the sidelines. Each year his name was announced, and each year he was hailed by the crowd and chased by writers on the bench who paid more attention to him than to the game. He did not appear one year, or the year before, and we feared he was done with us. But we kept ordering him a T-shirt with his name on the back.

Then one August he showed up, pulled the shirt over his head and said he was ready to bat. As the captain of the Writers team, I announced that Plimpton would pinch-hit for the first batter of the game, Daily News sports columnist Mike Lupica. The crowd roared when the announcement was made.

“Would you like Mike to run for you, George?” I asked.

Plimpton scowled and said he was perfectly capable of running for himself.

George Plimpton in the outfield
George Plimpton in the outfield

He did not waddle to the plate, he strode. He watched the first pitch sail high for a ball, and then hit a rope into left field. He rounded first as if he were about to go for a double, then glided back to the base, with fans waving and cheering. He smiled broadly, signaled for me to send Lupica in to run for him and trotted back to the sidelines. The Writers won the game with a home run in extra innings, but the highlight was not this hit but Plimpton’s.

I will never forget the steeplechase smile on Plimpton’s face after he got that hit, for I saw it twice. Several weeks later at a book party, Plimpton spotted two writers who played in that game. He would not boast of his feat, so we did. He modestly shrugged off the compliment, but his bright smile betrayed his pleasure—and ours.

Ken Auletta, a Sag Harbor resident, is well-known for his profiles of Bill Gates, Ted Turner, Barry Diller, Rupert Murdoch and other powerful people, and he has written “Annals of Communications” columns and profiles for The New Yorker magazine since 1992. He is the author of 12 books, including five national bestsellers: Three Blind Mice: How the TV Networks Lost Their Way; Greed and Glory on Wall Street: The Fall of The House of Lehman; The Highwaymen: Warriors of the Information Super Highway; World War 3.0: Microsoft and Its Enemies; and Googled, The End of the World As We Know It.

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