No longer a comedy of errors, the Artists-Writers annual softball game has become discomfitingly well played in recent years, this past Saturday’s mano-a-mano struggle in East Hampton’s Herrick Park being no exception.
In the end, the Writers’ egos were spared serious bruising as they emerged from the dogfight as 12-11 victors in 10 innings, thus taking a 26-18-1 lead in modern times, and going up 12-11-1 in the post-modern era.
More likely than the Writers to treat victory and defeat as the imposters they are, the Artists took the loss philosophically. “It’s still fun, though we gave it to them,” Billy Strong said, with a smile, as he left the field, his bat and mitt slung over his shoulder.
He was referring to an unaccountably unclaimed two-out pop fly to center field in the top of the third that led to three Writer runs, and to a leadoff ground rule double under the center-field fence in the 10th that “should have been caught.”
Its author, David Baer, who had initially thought it was a homer, scored soon after with the tiebreaking run, and the Writers, again with two outs, appended two more, including the game-winner, sandwiched around a huge round of applause and the wonderment that greeted the arrival of a most famous spectator, former President Bill Clinton, who helped umpire the 1988 Game when he was governor of Arkansas.
The Writers jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the top of the first, two coming home on a two-out double by Bill Collage (whose name, you’d think, would automatically qualify him as an Artist).
Thanks to a booming three-run home run into the tennis courts by Eddie McCarthy, bearing this writer ceaselessly back into the past as he recalled the mighty clouts over the nets by Marty Lyons, it was tied in the bottom half.
Dan Rattiner, infamous for his high strike calls made from behind the pitcher’s mound, was yanked in the second in favor of Judge Richard Lowe, who it was thought would be more judicious, but perhaps it was only right that his honor too was high-minded, causing both dugouts to exclaim periodically.
But what would an Artists-Writers Game be without controversy? In this regard there were several dugout-emptying debates — one in the Artists’ fifth when Lee Minetree, the Writers’ catcher at the time, grabbed Geoff Prisco’s bases-loaded nubber near the top of the box (the line had been rubbed out) and stamped on home plate for the third out, and one in the bottom of the 10th when a bone-jarring collision at the plate involving Minetree and the gritty landscape architect Eddie Hollander resulted in the ball being dislodged and in Hollander’s scoring the Artists’ 11th run.
Alas, the Paletteers could come no closer as, with one out and Eric Ernst on second, Mark Feuerstein and John Longmire, the second and third batters in the lineup, successively were retired on popouts caught by Baer, the best shortstop this side of the minor leagues.
Baer, 23, a former intern at this newspaper who now writes for TV, was the Game’s M.V.P. last year. This year, that honor was bestowed by the winning pitcher, Mike Lupica, upon Jay DiPietro, the Writers’ cleanup hitter, who, with two outs and the score tied at 9-9 in the bottom of the eighth, reached back over the fence in left-center to rob McCarthy of what would have been another three-run homer.
“That was a game-saving catch,” said Lupica, who in the top of the third smashed to smithereens a painted grapefruit Joe Sopiak tossed his way, thus carrying on a tradition that dates to the 64-year-old Game’s earliest days.