BATTER UP!: Members of the so-called New York media elite have been accused of many things, but excessive athletic fervor — or skill — is rarely one of them. However, anyone willing to leave the cubicle for the ballpark can pick up enough celebrity cameo anecdotes for a season of cocktail parties. There was the year Chuck D manned first base for the Air America team, the time Tom Hanks came out to cheer for his daughter, a Vanity Fair intern, and this year, The Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas has played a few games for the Rolling Stone team.
For true media junkies, there’s the, well, inside baseball; for example, upon assuming the editorship of The Paris Review, New Yorker writer Philip Gourevitch pitched for both teams in a Review-New Yorker match. And, as befits media teams, games have been assiduously chronicled everywhere from Gawker to The New Yorker’s Talk of the Town to company Web sites. GQ even devoted a page of its August issue to “The 10 Rules of Company Softball,” acknowledging two of its own: “sneak out of work as early as possible, and, for the love of God, beat The New Yorker.”
Now comes a development that promises to formalize what typically has been a rather haphazard process dependent on New York City Parks permits and proactive volunteer coaches: the formation of the New York Media Softball League. This year, charter league members BusinessWeek, DC Comics, High Times, Trader Monthly, The Wall Street Journal and WNYC radio have instituted regulations that include the use of an umpire and a mandate of one woman for every five men.
“It was a constant sore point between us and other teams that did not bring women out on a regular basis,” said former High Times editor and coach, and current “commissioner” of the media league, Steve Bloom. (Sometimes the problem is reversed; Trader Monthly editor in chief and president Randall Lane recalls playing for the Cosmopolitan team when they lacked for men.) Bloom said Vanity Fair and The New Yorker were invited to join the league, but declined. “No knock on those guys, but they don’t want to play on the same level, apparently,” he said.
The league also ensures the media-oriented makeup of the teams. Said Lane, who has been batting around the idea of a media league since he was captain of the Forbes team, “There’s no great thrill to getting bragging rights over an accounting firm.”
So far, BusinessWeek has bragging rights over everyone, inside and out of the league, with 11 wins this season and a 27-game winning streak from last year. Its last game of the year is against Condé Nast Portfolio, which — in a baseball-mirrors-life scenario — will pit respective editors in chief and former WSJ colleagues Joanne Lipman and Stephen Adler against each other on the diamond. Sadly, High Times, which is among the most ardent softball teams in all of media, can claim no such direct competition to trump in a game. “I’m not sure who our rivals would be,” mused Bloom, who is no longer directly affiliated with the magazine. “Well, I guess there are some Canadian marijuana magazines. Let’s say we were playing Cannabis Culture. That would be a competitive game.”
Bloom’s current project, CelebStoner.com, doubles as a tally for the media league games, leading BusinessWeek coach and senior writer Tom Lowry to point out, “I’m sure all the suits upstairs at McGraw-Hill are wondering what all the BusinessWeek guys are doing at CelebStoner.com.” Had they decided to check it out, the aforementioned suits would have found the retouched BusinessWeek logo created by upcoming softball rivals CollegeHumor.com. It read, “BusinessWeak,” and with slightly less nimble wordplay, BusinessWeek rebutted with “College Tumor.”
But it’s not all one-upmanship out there. High Times has nourished a close relationship with VNU, which owns Billboard and Mediaweek, and the two play an annual 9/11 commemorative game on Randall’s Island, complete with bulb planting, and a High Times delegation camped out at the VNU company retreat on Long Island last weekend.
Meanwhile, a vital act of cross-cultural understanding took place at the DC Comics-Paris Review game, at least told by a DC Comics correspondent on its Web site.
“While [DC Comics] expected a team of 40-year-old, Champagne-sipping, French-speaking snobs to show up, PR surprised the Bullets by instead bringing a team of athletic youngsters who promptly took a 2-0 lead in the top of the first.” (The Paris Review, possibly still feeling the loss of legendary editor and player George Plimpton, eventually lost.)
Certain cultural divisions will never be bridged. Years ago, High Times and National Review, which occasionally found common ground in the libertarian belief in legalizing marijuana, nonetheless disagreed about the war paint and drums the Bonghitters favored at the time. One day, National Review produced a boom box that blasted classical music. “It was like, screw your drums — we’re coming out with Vivaldi,” said Bloom. “And they won that day.”