All I remember is a game about twenty years ago, in which umpire Dan Rattiner failed to call a caught pop-up in foul territory out, because he didn’t, and probably still doesn’t, know the rules. (John Scanlon used to instruct people in the pronunciation of Dan’s name with “Ich bin ein Rattiner.”) In fact, Dan was no worse at his position than was I, once a high school pitcher. In that same game, I dropped an easy toss at second because I was overexcited at the prospect of turning a double play. Had I not been legally dead already, Mike Lupica’s contemptuous glance would have finished the job.
In those early days, the only guy who actually played softball, among what Peter Stone called “Schindler’s B List,” was Leif Hope, who, at my age now, was in such good shape, one wanted to get four other guys and beat him up. I take that back. Lori Singer was good, too. As was Ken Auletta, who manages the Writers today, and is so win-crazy, that if he came upon a drunk who could hit, he’d make him sign his name, call him a writer, and put him
We are talking about an event that has drawn to the plate the likes of Willem De Kooning, Edgar Doctorow, Jackson Pollock, Lauren Bacall, Alan Alda, Betty Friedan, Avery Corman, Eugene McCarthy, Ben Bradlee, Bill Clinton, who couldn’t play, and Paul Simon, who could. No East End tradition can hold a candle to it, including the Sag Harbor group reading of Moby-Dick, which extends from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The Artists and Writers game is fun, and even if it gets ludicrously intense from time to time, the game thrives, thanks to the good and sensible natures of people such as John and Jackie Leo and Kevin and Deb McEneaney, who understand that we are playing in a charity event, not the World Series.
What the A&W game gives the summer is something pleasant to focus on, to look forward and back to in a season when days tend to meld into one another in a sweet haze. At the same time, the game realizes the barely-hidden dream of every artist and writer in the group, none of whom would choose to be what we are if we could be Robbie Cano instead. Imagine Cano, David Ortiz, Joe Mauer, David Price, Roy Halladay, Miguel Cabrera and Derek Jeter suiting up for a Painting and Writing competition. (“Ooh,” says Big Papi, “I simply love that lavendar!) For one glorious day in August, we arise from our dark solitude, blink at the sunshine, break into teams, and play at being athletes. Big, strong, young athletes. Cool.”