A nostalgic treat for lovers of baseball lore, this pictorial documentary scores big with its chronicle of a 1994 “Austrian Cup” that featured some of the sport’s most noteworthy icons.
Author/cameraman Reynolds extracted stills from hours of video footage to create a companion book to his in-production documentary, both of which relate the story of an exhibition game staged near Vienna during the strike-shortened 1994 season. It was one of baseball’s lowest points in its long history, and the timing was horrendous—the Montreal Expos were on a record run, Albert Belle of the Cleveland Indians had his sights on the Triple Crown and Tony Gwynn of the San Diego Padres stood poised to become the first .400 hitter since Ted Williams. With the cancellation of the World Series freeing them from managerial and broadcasting obligations, a lineup of aging greats accepted an invitation to play in Stockerau, a village near Vienna where enthusiasts built Austria’s first baseball field. On a chilly September afternoon, Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto, Whitey Ford, Enos Slaughter, Joe Pignatano, Dell Alston, Ron LeFlore and others donned Yankee grays and, along with a few ringers, took the field against a far younger Austrian nine. The play-by-play of those 7 innings highlights a chronicle that opens with castle visits, a meeting with Vienna’s mayor and a performance by the Vienna Boys Choir, to whom the veterans taught “Take Me Out To The Ballgame.” These passages are pleasantly banal and endearing, with much tomfoolery, as seen in photographs of Rizzuto on a medieval rack and Ford conducting with a bat. The narrative, however, rife with incorrect grammar and misspellings, falls below the Mendoza line: Numerous passages take several readings to understand the author’s meaning or to whom he is referring. One figure named Karl is often mentioned but never introduced; a little research uncovered that he is Karl Hofer, the Austrian hotel executive who helped organize and promote the game. Still, one can’t help but feel the bittersweet joy of these Hall of Famers taking one last star turn on the diamond; of Slaughter and Rizzuto, both nearing 80, hitting run-scoring singles; and of exhausted men bursting from the dugout when LeFlore hits a home run.
Despite the lack of polish, fans of America’s favorite pastime will enjoy this genial piece of baseball ephemera.