In our sundown perambulations of late, through the outer parts of Brooklyn, we have observed several parties of youngsters playing “base,” a certain game of ball. Let us go forth a while and get better air in our lungs. Let us leave our close rooms. A game of ball is glorious.—Walt Whitman, 1846
Had the Good Gray Poet of Southold (and Brooklyn, and other Long Island locales) spent time in the Hamptons, he may have taken out his glove and bat and invited a few fellow scribes, maybe a painter or two, and a glorious game of ball among artists and writers might have been born here back in the 1840s. As it turns out, it took a little more than a century longer for a gathering of East End artists and writers to get such a game going, but as we gear up for the 65th annual Artists and Writers Softball Game on August 17, the sentiments that made Whitman wax poetic about what would become our national game remain at the heart of the East Hampton incarnation.
Generations of artists and writers have been inspired by baseball, and its sibling softball, to create works around the game, although not necessarily to play it. Walter Bernard has found inspiration for both. As a player in the Artists-Writers Game for four decades now, Bernard has taken the field on the artists’ side of the diamond, watching the game evolve from a more casual affair into the full-scale charity event it is today. He joyfully recalls being on the field “with real, legendary writers and artists,” playing second base amid lineups that showcased writers such as George Plimpton, artists like Howard Kanovitz, celebrities from Paul Simon to Alec Baldwin, and even umpires, such as Clive Barnes, who Bernard recounts called the first pitch of the game in 1976 not a ball, not a strike, but “adequate.”
As an artist, Bernard—who counts legendary graphic designer Milton Glaser as a mentor and has led the creative direction of such magazines as Time, Atlantic Monthly and Fortune, newspapers like The Washington Post, and websites such as ESPN’s Grantland—is in his second decade of creating posters and Dan’s Papers covers for the Artists and Writers Game, each year moved by the aesthetics of the sport itself.
“It’s a great game,” he says, “it’s a game that has wonderful artistic equipment—the glove, the bat, the uniforms—unlike, say, football, which makes people anonymous. And the field is beautiful. It’s been a great subject for artists, American artists, over the years. Baseball does have that nostalgic feeling, and by extension, softball.”
This year’s anniversary cover is an homage to that nostalgia, drawn straight out of the game’s history and ties to its own past. “I had been researching some old photographs, and they found a great photograph in the yard with de Kooning and Howard Kanovitz and Franz Kline playing ball, and I wanted to use that somehow to go from the beginning to contemporary. And I also found a picture of Eric Ernst at bat. Eric is the son of Jimmy Ernst, who played in the original games, and the grandson of Max,” says Bernard, tracking the artistic East End family tree. “So he was a good connection to the past, because he played from practically the age of 13 himself, but he was also a link to the beginning. I tried to do a poster that was all photographic, and that didn’t work. And then I thought, the Dan’s cover should be a watercolor illustration, so I based it on the idea of Eric Ernst, the link to the past, at bat in the 2012 game.”
As he looks forward to the 2013 Game, Bernard looks back at a roster of past covers, reflecting on their inspiration, creation and the legacy they leave of the glorious game.