Movie, TV stars play the role in annual baseball extravaganza
Los Angeles — Take a bunch of sportswriters and sportscasters, use them as a backdrop for a galaxy of stage, screen, and television actors, call the promotion Hollywood Stars Night, and you've got one of the world's best publicity gimmicks.
Each year on a date when there would otherwise be a lot of empty seats because the lowly Chicago Cubs or New York Mets are in town, the Dodgers schedule a celebrity game between the Los Angeles sports media and some 30 stars of the entertainment world. The result is invariably a sellout - and while all that glitters might not be gold, who cares when the bat girls are from ''Dynasty ,'' ''Dallas,'' and ''Knotts Landing''!
In this year's celebrity game, played before almost 50,000 fans plus a scattering of visiting Chicago Cubs, most members of the Media team ran to their positions with the speed of wet cement. The Dodgers, who have special uniforms for the Stars and the Media, also provide the umpires, the public address announcer, and the post-game meal. And believe me, you haven't lived until someone like Walter Matthau asks you to pass the mustard.
For one who has always wanted to play most of life's games in a major league ballpark, asking me to put on a Media uniform for Hollywood Stars Night is like sitting Nikita Khrushchev at a conference table and giving him a shoe.
I have swung at pitches inside the strike zone; outside the strike zone; and, on nights when my timing was off, before the ball reached home plate. Usually I have trouble finding a bat that doesn't feel like it weighs the same as the right arm on the Statue of Liberty.
If my memory is correct, I have three hits (all singles) plus two walks, in nine years of Hollywood Stars action. But so far I haven't messed up in the field, although I was forced to trap a towering fly ball against my chest one year - and I thought I was going to need a chisel to pry it loose.
This year, Stars' right-hander John Forsythe of ''Dynasty'' got me to flare weakly to second baseman Mark Harmon (''Flamingo Road'') in my lone time at bat (there are a lot of players to get into the game, and we usually have only four innings). I hate to admit it, but the off-speed pitch Forsythe threw me wouldn't have torn the fibers in a paper towel.
Meanwhile, Tony Orlando tried to tie a Yellow Ribbon on an old oak bat; Jack Lemmon turned up ''Missing'' in the field; and Lou Ferrigno (''The Incredible Hulk'') actually hit a ball into the stands.
The fact that Ferrigno did it in practice and not during the game made it no less memorable in the eyes of the fans. Lou was easy to spot, even if you weren't looking at his massive shoulders. There was a rumor going around that every time he squeezed the handle on his Louisville Slugger, sawdust gushed out.
The only downbeat thing about this year's Hollywood Stars Game was the absence of character actor Billy Barty, who had a previous engagement. It is always hilarious to watch Barty, who stands 3 feet, 9 inches in his baseball spikes, come down from the third base coach's box and counsel 7 ft. 2 in. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar of the Lakers on the mysteries of hitting a pitched ball.
The Lakers' center, who probably has the world's biggest strike zone, covers the 90 feet from home plate to first base in about five running steps.
Of course the Media team has never triumphed in one of these games and never will. Those Hollywood Stars are excellent protectors of reputations, especially their own. They don't ever play without first reading the script and making sure there are plenty of fat parts available for everyone.
For example, if the Media should happen to establish an early lead, the Stars are given unlimited batting time by the umpires. If Betty Thomas of ''Hill Street Blues'' decides to powder her nose at second base while other runners continue home, this is also permitted. And if the Media catcher is paying so much attention to Annette Funicello in a close play at home plate that he loses sight of the baseball, his teammates always understand.