65th Annual Artists & Writers Game Another Classic in East Hampton

Writers team member Mort Zuckerman played the role of soothsayer on Friday night, but he should stick to his day job.

“It’ll be close for the first four, but then the Artists fall apart,” the owner and publisher of the New York Daily News predicted at the Artists & Writers Game pregame party on Friday. Flash forward a few hours, and the 65th annual game is tied at five all in the bottom of the fifth. Top of the 6th, Artists are up, and “The New Guy,” later ID’d as first-time player Jamie Patricof, hits a two-run homer, putting his team ahead for the rest of the game.

On a day that couldn’t have been more perfect for baseball, the Artists bested the Writers, 8–6, in the Artists & Writers Softball game at Herrick Park in East Hampton.

With so much more to keep you eye on than the ball, Artists & Writers is the kind of game that prompted an announcer to note, “Thank God someone is keeping score” before the top of the 7th.

Former President Bill Clinton started the game off on a high note with a visit in the 2nd. When announcer Juliet Papa asked him if he’d be calling balls and strikes this year, he responded with a wry, “No, I don’t think so. I’ve made enough decisions in my life,” before posing for photos with fans on the field. This is the second consecutive year Clinton has shown up at the Artists & Writers Game, prompting many to wonder if he, like so many out-of-towners on the rosters, plans his annual East End vacation around the storied pastime.

“We like seeing him we hope he comes back,” said Papa after the game.

The day was full of the serious—like two home runs—the hilarious—was former Yankee Jim Leyritz up to bat for the Writers every other inning?—and the philanthropic, as East End Hospice, East Hampton Day Care Learning Center, Phoenix House and The Retreat all benefited from donations and raffle contributions. Ultimately, $150,000 was raised.

Announcers Papa, James Lipton and Fred Graver delivered the one-liners, like “[Umpire and New York City Police Commish Ray] Kelly will be doing a stop and frisk if someone attempts to steal.” Kelly was the butt of quite a few good-natured jokes. Writer and pitcher Mike Lupica noted the night before that he won’t be yelling his signature “you suck” at all the umps when he disagrees with a call—to Kelly, he would just put his hands out and submit to being cuffed. Matt Lauer, Judge Richard Lowe III and Dan Rattiner also shared umping—and presumably scapegoating—duties.

The Writers took an early lead, putting one run on the board in each of the first two innings. But the Artists answered with two runs in the 3rd, before pulling ahead with three more in the 4th. The Writers tied it at 5 all in the 5th, and their additional run in the 8th wasn’t enough to top the Artists, despite consensus at the pregame party the night before that the Writers would take the game. Longtime game organizer Leif Hope even relented to Zuckerman’s point on Friday night, acknowledging that the writers are “physically superior.” “But intellectually inferior,” he quickly smiled.

With the game well underway on Saturday, the announcers noted that in 65 years, there had only been seven walks. And big hits led to big defensive plays, like when Patricof caught a fly ball of Leyritz. Writers catcher Jay McInerney didn’t let the hot bats affect his preferred style of playing, however, as he caught without a catchers mask.

Just in case you forgot this was a game played on the East End, the game harkened back to the area’s roots when Leyritz was thrown a “melon ball” …a.k.a. a turnip. He hit the veggie out of the park… or he would have, had it not broke into numerous pieces. Leyritz is best known for hitting a three-run home run in Game 4 of the 1996 World Series, which the Yankees eventually went on to win, and accusations flew that the Writers juggled with the batting order.

“They kept on trying to sneak me in there every once in awhile, but Leif [Hope] told me last night that he was going to do something to distract me…The tradition got me,” said Leyritz. After the antics, the announcers quipped that the tradition goes back to the Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock era, and that Pollock later sold the “melon ball” splatter for $6 million.

The game has 65 years of traditions, all of which were memorialized with a Hall of Fame, titled “Artists & Writers: They Played in the Game” at Guild Hall earlier this summer. The game owes much of its success to co-organizers Hope and Deb McEneaney. (Though Hope’s modest comment that he’s been organizing for “over a dozen years” drew laughs.)

Artist Eric Ernst noted that he marks the passage of time with Artists & Writers games, instead of birthdays. On the game turning 65: “It represents the importance of Artists & Writers within the community at large and what we can offer, (especially with regards to) giving back to charities as well as the legacy of the artists (on the East End.)”

Adding to the legacy of Artists & Writers is the cast of characters who have played and attended throughout its storied history. New York City mayoral candidate Jack Hidary, running as an independent on the jobs and education line, tended the sidelines this year. Hope shared that Senator Eugene McCarthy, who graced the field a handful of times, told him that he would rather be remembered as an excellent first baseman than as a senator.

Lupica, too, fondly recalled days past at the pregame party, noting that “We’re constantly astounded that people actually come and watch up play softball, because we play it for the fellowship.” He shared a memory of the late Roy Schieder, longtime pitcher for the Artists. The year before he died, the Artists were wondering if Schieder was going to play. They received word that he would pitch for one inning, but he ended up pitching eight innings that day. Lupica doesn’t recall the minutia of the day—the score; or if the postgame party was at the old Laundry or new Race Lane—but he remembers that Scheider was named MVP that evening, the first unanimous MVP in the history of the game.

Patricof was named MVP for the 2013 this year. “I was considering retiring after the home run because there’s nothing left for me to do,” said the first-time player. “They’ll be talking about me forever, the guy who hit the home run but never played again. But I’ll keep coming.”

At the end of the game, after the on-the-field high fives; when players’ attentions turned back to Lupica’s aforementioned fellowship and the good times to be had at the postgame party at Race Lane, Ken McEneaney summed it up best. “I heard from one of the artists who’s new that it’s going to take them five years to come back, (and) they are willing to wait each year to do it. But (they did it) first year.”

Fuel for the fire for 2014.

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