September 18, 2011

THESE ARE A FEW OR OUR FAVORITE PLAYERS (via Foos):

Hills Alive With Sound of Huckleberries (RICHARD SANDOMIR, 9/16/11, NY Times)

Seventeen years ago, on a baseball field outside Vienna, Phil Rizzuto tried to wedge a batting helmet onto his head. "What you really need is a square one," Ralph Branca cracked from his seat in the dugout, a former Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher incongruously wearing a Yankees uniform.

Nearby, Yogi Berra stood at home plate and lunged for a ceremonial first pitch. Then he went out and played second base.

At first base, Whitey Ford turned to a video camera and said: "Isn't life wonderful, folks? Austria on a Sunday afternoon. We're beating the Austrians, 10-4, and we're having a lot of fun." With "My Way" blasting from a loudspeaker, Ford turned to a camera to add, "And Frank Sinatra's singing!"

Watching Rizzuto, Ford and Berra -- in video never seen publicly -- on a diamond in Austria during a baseball season appears to make little sense. After all, Rizzuto still had a job then as a Yankees announcer.

But this was mid-September 1994. Major leaguers had been on strike for more than a month and the World Series was about to be canceled.

And thousands of miles away, in Austria, some aging Yankees players and some other retired major leaguers were in Yankees road grays in the village of Stockerau to play an exhibition game against an Austrian team in a country far better known for skiing than baseball.

Branca was there. So were Bill White, the former St. Louis Cardinals player and National League president, as well as a former broadcast partner of Rizzuto's; Joe Pignatano, the former Mets coach; Ron LeFlore, the former Detroit Tigers player; and Enos Slaughter, a Cardinals Hall of Famer.

Berra in a Yankees uniform was a rare sight at the time. He had exiled himself from Yankee Stadium after he was dismissed as the team's manager by George Steinbrenner early in the 1985 season.

The game that day was a baseball version of the film "Cocoon." White said, "Our average age was 60."

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 18, 2011 8:38 AM
  
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