Former MLB player, broadcaster and TV personality Joe Garagiola has passed away at the age of 90.
Garagiola, a native of St. Louis, would sign with the St. Louis Cardinals as a catcher at the age of 16. He would make his big league debut with the Cardinals in 1946 earning a World Series ring. However, Garagiola never lived up to expectations. The Cardinals would trade him to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the middle of the 1951 season and two years later the Bucs shipped him along with future Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner to the Chicago Cubs. Garagiola ended his playing career in 1954 with the New York Giants. He finished with a lifetime batting average of .257, 42 home runs and 255 RBI in 676 games played over 9 seasons. Garagiola would say of his playing career, “Not only was I not the best catcher in baseball, I wasn’t even the best catcher on my street.” Garagiola was neighbors with none other than Yogi Berra. Garagiola’s passing comes just over six months after Berra’s death.
Garagiola would return to the Cardinals in 1955 as a radio broadcaster, a position he would hold until 1962. In 1960, Garagiola authored a best selling book titled Baseball is a Funny Game. He would broadcast games for the New York Yankees between 1965 and 1967. During this period, Garagiola would begin a long standing association with NBC in various capacities – baseball broadcaster, panelist on The Today Show, game show host and even occasionally served as a substitute host for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. In fact, Garagiola was hosting The Tonight Show in May 1968 when John Lennon and Paul McCartney made an appearance to promote Apple Records.
I remember Garagiola best from NBC’s Game of the Week which I tuned into faithfully on Saturday afternoons. Garagiola was partnered first with Tony Kubek and later Vin Scully. He and Scully were in the broadcast booth for the 1984, 1986 and 1988 World Series. After NBC lost broadcasting rights to MLB, Garagiola had a brief stint covering California Angels games in 1990. Arizona Diamondbacks fans will remember him for occasionally providing color commentary for their games from their inception in 1998 until retiring for good following the 2012 season. His son, Joe Garagiola, Jr. is currently a senior-VP with the D’Backs.
In recent years, Garagiola had become a vocal opponent against chewing tobacco. Garagiola had used chewing tobacco in his playing days before quitting.
Garagiola was also a close friend of Gerald Ford and campaigned on his behalf during the 1976 presidential election.
In 1991, the Baseball Hall of Fame honored Garagiola with the Ford C. Frick Award for his contributions to baseball broadcasting. I leave you with a brief clip of Garagiola’s acceptance speech in Cooperstown.