The last time he went to bat, George Plimpton hit a sharp line drive. “Well,” he said to me, “That makes my day.” “It’d make my year,” I said. He laughed and said, “You’re right. Damn that was good.” So, there we were, two not-so-young-anymore writers, guys who did pretty well, talking about the best Saturday of every year.
There is some argument about when the game began, was it 1948 or’49? Or some other year when George and I were kids? But there is no doubt about where it stood with us, right up there with Pulitzer Prizes and the New York Times best-seller list. Players in the game, have included politicians, including one President, Bill Clinton, and more than a couple of candidates, including Eugene McCarthy, George McGovern and Rudy Giuliani. The game was originally all artists, casual weekend affairs in the Springs. The players were or became legends, Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Philip Pavia, Franz Kline, Howard Kanovitz, Wifred Zogbaum, Syd Solomon and Joan Mitchell. Some good ballplayers (Pavia), some hopeless (de Kooning). The first pitcher was Harold Rosenberg, the art critic of The New Yorker.
Writers began to appear more. Terry Southern and Arthur Blaustein were among the first. Older artists grumble that the writers took it more seriously. With faces often pale from too much time spent alone at a keyboard, they were there to win. The “savages” included Saul Bellow, Joe Heller, Pete Hamill, Peter Maas, Willie Morris, Peter Matthiessen, James Jones, Ed Doctorow, Irwin Shaw, Wilfrid Sheed, Avery Corman, John Leo, Carl Bernstein, Walter Isaacson, Mike Lupica, Neil Simon, Kurt Vonnegut, John Irving and Tom Wolfe. The formal dividing of the game into Artists vs. Writers was when the fun began––or perhaps ended. It depends on whom you ask.
In 1976, after years of Artists’ defeats, Leif Hope hired two professional women softball players. Soon enough, ringers became part of the game. Hope recruited former NY Jets Wesley Walker and Marty Lyons, players bigger than Baldwin, Rod Gilbert and even Pelé. Some players were real athletes, actors, singers and politicians, even Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer once called balls and strikes. Spectators were watching the Baldwins, Christopher Reeve and Paul Simon––along with above-the-title celebrities including Lauren Bacall, Woody Allen, Dustin Hoffman, Alan Alda, Matthew Broderick, Roy Scheider, Chevy Chase, Regis Philbin, Tony Randall and Eli Wallach.
Among the more than 400 who played in the game to date were other stars: Lori Singer is a regular in both the Artists & Writers Game and the 38-year old Sag Harbor Game and Christie Brinkley, who was allowed six strikes and still didn’t hit the damn ball, often plays. Bob Balaban, Peter Boyle, Lorraine Bracco, Ben Bradlee, James Brady and Josh Charles, good ones, James Brooks, Ed Burns, another good one, Dick Cavett, Eartha Kitt, who sang the National Anthem, Norman Lear, James Lipton, Mark Feuerstien and Dr. Ruth. Ex- convicts were also part of the mix: Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, and Clifford Irving. Hoffman and Irving, by the way, were also pretty good.
The bravest men on the field for the last 30 years are Leif Hope, the Artists’ coach and Ken Auletta, the Writers’ boss. Their problem, year after year, is balancing enough talented players to have a chance of winning, with enough big names to keep the crowd happy––and stroke the fair vanities of all. The first move toward charity was in 1970, when the game raised money for Bob Gwathmey. He had been arrested after he sewed a peace symbol over the field of stars on the American flag. But these are First Amendment guys, so Rudy Giuliani, Tom Wolfe, John Leo, Jerry Della Femina and other conservatives were welcomed. Even Bill O’Reilly turned up one year, claiming he was a journalist. Hell, even Canadians are allowed in, meaning Peter Jennings and Mort Zuckerman, who denies that he bought The Atlantic magazine to get into the Sag Harbor Game. Mort, a pitcher most years, won his MVP in 1987.
The four recipients for the money raised in 2012: The East Hampton Day Care Learning Center, the East End Hospice, the Long Island Phoenix Houses, and The Retreat.
Oh, the score! In what we call “Modern Times” the Writers have won 28 games, the Artists 16 and there has been one tie. No one remembers the scores of the other 20 games. Leif Hope likes to emphasize that the Artists have won 11 of the last 23 games.