Artists-Writers Softball Needs a Hall of Fame, But Exhibit Will Do

Baseball has been in existence since Abner Doubleday thought it up 173 years ago. There’s a Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

The annual Artist-Writers Softball Game in the Hamptons is about to celebrate its 65th year. There is no Artist-Writers Softball Hall of Fame in the Hamptons. But there should be. The game is joined on a sandlot ball field diamond behind the Waldbaum’s supermarket on Newtown Lane in East Hampton on the second Saturday in August for all these generations.

I had breakfast at Danny’s Fairway Café in Sagaponack a few months ago with Leif Hope, who is Commissioner of this annual event (and also the coach of the Artists), and we discussed briefly the idea of creating some sort of Hall of Fame out here. It could house baseball bats, programs, t-shirts and photographs of some of the participants who, over the years, have included Willem de Kooning, Abbie Hoffman, Bill Clinton, Paul Simon, Carl Icahn, E.L. Doctorow, George Plimpton and maybe 100 other prominent people. I thought of a number of commercial buildings, mostly in Pantigo near Town Hall, that are currently vacant and for sale or rent. One of them, originally the Wei Fun Chinese Restaurant, would be a perfect spot.

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As a kind of example of what this would look like, I asked Leif if he remembered the old Billy’s Triple Crown Bar in Bridgehampton and he said he did. This was a bar and restaurant on Main Street in that town owned by Billy DePetris, who years earlier had been a high school classmate of the famous baseball slugger Carl Yastrzemski. Carl, the son of a Bridgehampton potato farmer, had won the Triple Crown in professional baseball—highest batting average, most runs batted in and most home runs all in the same year, for the Boston Red Sox—and before that had been the pitcher on an undefeated Bridgehampton High School baseball team in the 1950s. Billy had been the catcher.

After Yaz became famous during his career with the Red Sox—there was no other winner of the Triple Crown again until this year, when Miguel Cabrera won it—Billy began collecting memorabilia from his pal’s career. Framed on the walls of this restaurant were newspaper clippings both from local papers and national papers, photographs, Carl’s glove, several bats, spikes, fan letters, even a letter inviting Carl to tryouts for the Brooklyn Dodgers. (He preferred the Red Sox.) Also on the wall, by the way, were numerous photos of Carl with Billy, including one where they were each 17 years old and Carl was on the mound and Billy behind the plate.

Leif told me to try to develop this idea. We could rent a space. Maybe later, we could raise money and buy a space.

The next day I called Ben Krapinski, the owner of the former Wei Fun building in Pantigo, and asked him if it could be rented for a long period of time as an Artists-Writers Hall of Fame, and he said no, he was only interested in selling it.

I didn’t think anything further of it after that.

And then, last week, Debbie McEneaney, the marketing director for the game, announced that largely through Leif’s efforts, Guild Hall in East Hampton would be holding an exhibit next June and July of photographs, souvenirs, programs, t-shirts, caps, bats and newspaper clippings about the Artists-Writer’s Softball Game. People were asked to call her if they had any items for the Guild Hall exhibit. I gave her some of the photos I took, one of which includes James Jones (author of From Here to Eternity) lounging in the grass between third base and home during a game in the early 1970s, smoking a cigar. The exhibit will also showcase works from Guild Hall’s permanent collection that were created by artists who played in the game.

The Game was founded on the back lawn of the home of Wilfred Zogbaum in Springs in 1948 as part of a picnic for several artists and writers. I’ve been writing about it since 1968.

Things I remember:

Eugene McCarthy, the Senator from Wisconsin and former presidential candidate, playing first base in 1972 with a split in the back of his pants that nobody wanted to tell him about.

I recall singer Paul Simon leaping high up against the left field fence to catch a ball and coming down on the spikes of the fence, fortunately without serious injury.

Writer George Plimpton pitching carefully to Eric Ernst for the Artists.

Superagent Sam Cohn at bat.

Bianca Jagger bidding against a gallery owner from Florida for some paintings made by Eric Fischl on a clothesline behind home plate.

Bill Clinton umpiring several innings in 1986.

The soccer star Pelé from Brazil playing in the game.

Yogi Berra making an appearance, there to watch his son, Dale Berra, a shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates, play in the game.

Heavyweight contender Gerry Cooney hitting a single to left.

Hippie Abbie Hoffman in 1971, after watching the first pitch to him called a strike, then watching the second one come in, for a ball,  dashing down the base path to “steal” first base. (He trotted back when we told him he could not do that.)

Christie Brinkley getting three strikes and you’re out, and after that missing the next pitch for strike four.

Walter Isaacson playing second base. Carol Channing in the outfield. Alec Baldwin in right. Chevy Chase hitting a single. A host of others over the years—Leo Castelli, Regis Philbin, Ed Burns, John Irving, Sylvia Tennenbaum, Alan Alda, Gail Sheehy, Walter Bernard.

Gallery owner Elaine Benson managing the Artists for 10 years, and “stealing” me from the roster of the Writers to play for the Artists. She said it was a trade, but there were no other players involved, nor was any money paid.

Working as the umpire and declaring a called third strike against billionaire Carl Icahn, standing there with the bat on his shoulder and watching the pitch come in right over the plate.

In the last few years, calling balls and strikes against my son David Lion Rattiner, Web Editor of Dan’s Hamptons, as he bats for the Writers.

Towering home runs (into the tennis court beyond left field) by Rick Leventhal, Bill Collage, Richard Weis and, earlier, Marty Lyons (defensive lineman for the New York Jets), and even earlier, sculptor Philip Pavia.

Having the game delayed because the ball field had been reserved and was still being used by a group of 10-years-olds who were now still tied in the top of the fourteenth.

Shaking hands with Barry Commoner, running for president in 1980 as a third party candidate and campaigning at the game. I didn’t care for either major candidate that year. So I voted for Commoner because he’d gone to the trouble of shaking my hand where neither of the others, Reagan or Carter, had.

Actor Roy Scheider pitching with good humor for the Artists for 15 years in the 1990s and on.

Billionaire publisher and real estate man Mort Zuckerman pitching for the Writers for those same 15 years with great ferocity and focus.

The tremendous and fiery play of New York Daily News sportswriter Mike Lupica.

The short aftergame get-togethers at the Laundry Restaurant on Race Lane directly after the game, where stories were told, steins of beer raised and Leif, standing on a chair, telling us how much money was raised for charity.

The year I was declared one of two Players of the Game. It was in 1970 and I was awarded an enormous jeroboam of Champagne, which I carted home and didn’t use for several years because we never had enough people to drink it all at one sitting.

Guest umpires working several innings that included Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Congressman Charles RangelBetty Friedan playing the outfield. Kathleen Turner playing the outfield. Writer Peter Maas playing the outfield. Howard Stringer (recently CEO of Sony) announcing the game. PR genius John Scanlon announcing the game. Boxing commentator Bert Sugar announcing the game. TV personality James Lipton announcing the game. Juliette Papa of WINS announcing the game. In the early years, radio personality Ted Brown announcing the game through a bullhorn.

Mayor Paul Rickenbach welcoming fans.

The graceful play for 20 years and more of the beautiful actress Lori Singer.

It would be such fun to have an Artist-Writers Softball Hall of Fame in the Hamptons. Maybe someday there will be one. Until then, you’ll be able to see the material that could go in such a facility at Guild Hall in June and July, 2013. And of course, you will be welcomed back at the next edition of “The Game” on August 17, 2013.

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