June 20, 1988 12:00 PM

Okay, so they didn’t play strictly by the book. When Meat Loaf stole second base, he kept it. And when Emmanuel (Webster) Lewis danced off base, former Chicago Bears running back Walter Payton—no doubt reacting instinctively—plucked him off the ground, tucked him under his arm and ran for home plate. (Fortunately, he didn’t spike the kid after scoring.) The players were stars, to be sure, but not on the diamond. “I haven’t played soft-ball since seventh grade,” admitted Oprah Winfrey. Claimed columnist Erma Bombeck: “I’ve got all the moves down. I know how to spit.”

In fact, there was only one hard-and-fast rule in the third Barbara Mandrell Celebrity Softball Classic in Nashville on June 3: To run up a big score for the Vanderbilt University Medical Center Transplantation Program. Between the 19,000 spectators and 15 corporate sponsors, $500,000 was raised to fund education and research on organ transplants. “Why put in the ground to turn back to dust what could help people to live?” asked Mandrell, captain of the AT&T Ringers and organizer of the two-day celebrity outing. “I’ve had letters from people who have lost loved ones and have found a bit of comfort in knowing that this person they lost, even in death, gave love to others.”

Bob Hope, 85, led the Ringers’ opposition, the Pepsi Challengers. “I’ve always been a great athlete,” he said. “I’ve had a big chest and a hard stomach, but that’s all behind me now.” The Mandrell training regimen could only have contributed to his newfound physique. The night before the game, players feasted on chicken and ribs during a uniform-fitting party at the 20,000-square-foot, six-bedroom log house of Barbara and husband Ken Dudney. Then there was a pregame gourmet “tailgate party” for stars and sponsors at the Vanderbilt Plaza Hotel, and a lavish postgame poolside affair at the mansion of BMI music chief Frances Preston.

Amid all the festivities, the biggest hit was the game itself. The final score was 18-17, and the final run—the game winner, as it turned out—was scored by the Ringers’ Mandrell. Everybody went home happy, and no one kicked dirt on the umpire.

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