Leif Hope, 87, is the Artists’ manager, and the annual fund-raising game’s impresario. His team were perennial patsies in the old days, but have won the last three in a row, thus taking over the lead in the modern era dating to 1988. Hope says the Artists are okay.
“There’s no geriatric crisis as far as we’re concerned,” said the restaurateur and artist recently. “The Writers, though, could use some Cubans.”
Following last year’s 7-4 triumph, Hope, when asked if he didn’t perceive a sea change in the Game, confidently predicted the Artists would lose in 2016.
Over the decades, the game, an August tradition in East Hampton, has drawn such luminaries as Woody Allen, Paul Simon, Chevy Chase, the late Roy Scheider, the late George Plimpton, Alec Baldwin, John Irving, Jay McInerney, Pele, Gerry Cooney, and Carl Bernstein. This year, it’s scheduled to be played Saturday, Aug. 20, at 2 pm at Herrick Park in East Hampton (rain date Aug. 27). The event last year raised about $200,000, split equally four ways among the Eleanor Whitmore Early Childhood Center, Phoenix House, East End Hospice, and the Retreat.
Hope has always painted the Writers as ego-driven loners with axes to grind, in contrast to his confraternal, fun-loving Artists, who treat victory and defeat as the imposters they are.
When questioned, Mike Lupica, the sportswriter, commentator, book writer, and columnist, who co-manages the Writers with Ken Auletta, an author as well as a writer on the media for The New Yorker magazine, threw Hope a curve: “To me, and I’ve probably played longer than anyone, it’s always been about fellowship and providing entertainment and raising money for good causes… It’s like a wonderful little town meeting. I know Leif paints the Writers as carnivorous, but in the great scheme of things it doesn’t matter who wins. What matters is that we get some people whose names are recognizable, some players people may want to see — not bigger, younger, faster ones.”
Contrariwise, it was the Artists, Lupica said, who’ve become caught up in winning, eyeing lineups hawkishly.
“I am as competitive as anyone,” said the feisty 64-year-old, whose wife, he said, habitually reminds him what year it is after he slides into second base in his shorts. “But this Game is about fun and fellowship.”
Lupica sees no decline either in the avidity of competition or in drawing power. “We had as many watching last year as we’ve ever had. Nobody’s desperate — there are always people who want to play, though I’ll admit they’re sometimes not the superstars they make themselves out to be.”
“I’m reminded of what Brett Shevack, our third baseman, always says to me at the postgame party at Race Lane: ‘This is the best day of the whole year.’ ”