I have been a baseball fan all my life. But this past Saturday, I witnessed the most remarkable thing I have ever seen on a baseball diamond. Ever.
It happened in the bottom of the ninth inning of the East Hampton Artist & Writers Charity Softball Game, an encounter between members of those two subcultures in the Hamptons that has been played annually for 74 years.
On my way to the game, to umpire and/or write about it, I thought of something interesting. “Can the pen be mightier than the paintbrush?” Hmmm.
We’d soon know. I parked in the lot adjacent to the Herrick Park ball field, behind the Stop & Shop in East Hampton, went in and saw the place was alive with spectators and players talking to President Bill Clinton there at the game, surrounded by well-wishers.
He was to call balls and strikes on the mound from behind the pitcher. And he was sartorially very splendid. Panama hat, big smile, some sort of Hawaiian shirt with squiggles, black shorts, long socks and sneakers.
Well, he’s retired. And just one of the many celebrities and people of accomplishment who have played in this annual game over the years, both retired or otherwise.
I sat down behind the backstop at the media table where Juliet Papa of 1010 WINS “All News. All the Time.” was at the microphone announcing the game along with Josh Brandman, whose dad David sometimes plays in the game.
And so, with the former president umpiring from behind the mound, the game began.
There were the usual diving catches in the outfield, the usual double plays from third to second to first. And there were the home runs.
Graphic designer Brian Pfund hit a grand slam. Musician Eddie McCarthy hit another.
After that, an ambulance arrived in the outfield where, it turned out, essayist Andy Friedman playing center field for the Writers had leaped up to snag McCarthy’s grand slam, failed to get it, and then fell into the grass where, somehow, he received a cut on his chin requiring medical attention.
Taken to the hospital, he got four stitches, and was back at the game in time to watch the extraordinary things that happened in the bottom of the ninth inning.
By that time, some of the crowd, with the game almost over, had gone home. It was a hot, sunny day. Furthermore, this was not a close game. Indeed it was sort of a slaughter. The score was Artists 18, Writers 2.
Well, as the teams changed sides to go from the top of the ninth to the bottom of the ninth, the Writers talked about trying to bring on some kind of rally, just to show they were there and holding up their end, at least a little bit.
“Three outs and it’s over,” Brandman said over the microphone.
Comedian Peter Cestaro was pitching for the Artists. This is a slow-pitch softball game, with the batters given lots of opportunities, given the pitch, to hit it far, if they were able.
The inning opened with Mike Lupica, the sportswriter, getting a walk, after which, his son, Alex Lupica singled to right field.
Writer David Baer, who in prior years has been the player of the game, then hit a double, scoring both Lupicas. It was now 18-4.
Next up was Jerry Xie, who hit a single through the legs of the second baseman.
Writer Dan Pulick now singled followed by Jonathan Lemire with another, and now it was 18-6. (Lemire’s book The Big Lie is currently #4 on The New York Times bestseller list.)
“Hey,” Brandman at the microphone said, “there’s still nobody out. How far will this go?”
Writer Nicholas Dawidoff now singled to load the bases. Novelist Peter Wood singled, producer Harry Javer walked and it was 18-8.
Then writer Paul Winum, at bat, got hit by a pitch. He groaned and grasped his side, but this is slow-pitch and he was faking. He came back to the plate, smiled, and then dropped a single over the shortstop’s head to make it 18-9 with the bases still loaded.
Was this really happening? Spectators talked to one another about what until now seemed impossible. Indeed, a pinch hitter nobody knew came up and walked, sending in another run.
Nobody knew who this person was because nearly all the players wore shirts with their names on the back. This guy’s shirt had no name.
Somehow at this point, a 10-year-old in a red T-shirt came up to the plate and hit a single. And once again the bases were loaded. And the 10-year-old was replaced by a runner.
“There’s STILL nobody out,” Brandman shouted.
Next, after Writer David Bernstein hit a triple, the Artists decided to bring in a new pitcher. In trotted photographer David Blinken. It did no good at first. Screenwriter Rob Levi singled and now it was 18-13.
By this time, everybody knew they were seeing something never to be forgotten. But suddenly, Blinken got the next two outs. Xie, at bat, hit a high fly ball to left field which was caught, and then Pulick hit a fly ball to right which was also caught.
When the next batter came up and hit another slow bouncer to the second baseman, people thought that was it. But again, the ball was bobbled, and the resultant flip to second again appeared to be too late.
Nevertheless, the Artists on the sidelines raced out onto the infield, yelling “game over,” and “we won,” after which Carl Bernstein, of Watergate fame, who was coaching first base for the Writers, ran out and yelled at everybody that the runner was safe.
Indeed, two umpires confirmed it.
During this, I thought one of the infielders shouted at the Artists, “Do you really want to win this game like that?” and the dust settled.
The game continued. Dawidoff singled, more walks and singles followed and it was 18-15.
Again, the Artists announced they would be changing pitchers.
In came Artist John Longmire, a big, strong athlete who had started the game keeping the Writers at bay. He would put out this fire. But no. The Writers objected.
There’s a rule that allows players who play early and then get replaced to come back and hit again. But pitching was another story, they said, and it wasn’t fair, so Longmire, after standing around with the ball, walked off the field and threw it to Cestaro to finish the game.
So here’s how it ended. Bases loaded, two out and another stranger who also did not have a name on his back had just taken strike two. It had come down to this. One last swing.
The pitch came in high, but the stranger swung at it, hitting a fly ball that gracefully rose up and up, then down and down to just clear the left field fence over the outstretched glove of the Artists’ left fielder. The Writers had won, and they did it by scoring 17 runs in the bottom of the ninth.
As people jumped up and down for joy, I walked out onto the field where this hitter was being congratulated by everybody. Who was he?
“He’s the rabbi,” somebody said.
Josh Franklin is indeed the rabbi at the Jewish Center of the Hamptons on Woods Lane in East Hampton. He told me he had never played in this game before, never played much baseball before, was not that good at it, and it had been a home run but the umpires had ruled it a ground rule double, which STILL won the game 19-18.
“God was on your side this day,” I told him. After that, he was mobbed by more Writers. What a game.
ARTISTS 2 0 5 0 4 3 0 4 0 —18
WRITERS 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 17 — 19