Recently, I read of someone who was described as “a great herder of cats.” Leif Hope, a great ballplayer, by the way, who moves like a cat on the mound and bats like a lion, is one of those — an artistic manager of swing-for-the-fences egos in the service of the greater good.
The betterment of life in this town has been the prize on which Leif’s eyes have been cast for the almost 50 years now that the Artists-Writers Softball Game has been played as a benefit, for such organizations as the Eleanor Whitmore Early Childhood Center, which began here as Head Start, the Retreat, which offers a haven to victims of domestic abuse, Phoenix House, which helps to free people from addiction, and East End Hospice, which enables the terminally ill to remain in their houses.
Leif is a doer of good leavened with a sly sense of humor, however, a sense of fun that has served him, and The Game’s receipts, well over the years, during which the myth he’s spun of solipsistic, closeted Writers intent on annually bludgeoning the insouciant, life-loving Artists has been undone by the cold fact that Artists, while perhaps less obsessive than Writers, like to win too. And indeed they have as many times as the Writers have in the past 25 years.
Leif’s aim has always been to put on a good show, and thus he ought to be forgiven, I think, for playing fast and loose with his players’ bona fides. John Leo, once the Writers’ manager, said he guessed that in his opposing manager’s eyes anyone who was not a writer was an artist.
In rebuttal, Leif has said the Writers were the first to transgress, insisting in the 1970s that two lawyer ringers from California were eligible to play for them because they “wrote legal briefs.” But I think that riposte came after Leif played two auto body guys, Andy Malone and John Johnson, who in their work repainted cars.
A lover of women, Leif has not hesitated to enlist them in tweaking the Writers’ egos, often subbing in for a few innings all-female lineups recruited from the East Hampton Town women’s slow-pitch softball league.
In the famous “Battery Show” of 1977, he introduced a lights-out pro pitcher, Kathy Neal, and her catcher, C.B. Tomasiewicz, whom he and Tom Twomey had flown over from Connecticut, as “two folk singers from Omaha.”
It soon became evident they weren’t. Bowing to authorial pique, Leif played them in the outfield from the second until the ninth inning, at which point, with runners on first and third, and with the Writers about to tie the game up, he called them back in to pitch and catch.
A popup, a strikeout, and a popup, and that was it. The Artists won 13-7. “Some guys didn’t talk to me for five years after that,” said Leif, who, when it comes to The Game, puts it all on the line, always has, and always will.
My one regret is that he, a great ballplayer, as I’ve said, hasn’t played more in all these Games for which he’s been the impresario. But there’s more than one way, I suppose, to skin a cat.
Let’s play it again, Leif, play it again.