Joe Garagiola, Sr.

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Joe Garagiola
Joe Garagiola 1951.png
Garagiola in 1951.
Catcher
Born: (1926-02-12) February 12, 1926 (age 88)
St. Louis, Missouri
Batted: Left Threw: Right
MLB debut
May 26, 1946 for the St. Louis Cardinals
Last MLB appearance
September 26, 1954 for the New York Giants
Career statistics
Batting average .257
Home runs 42
Run batted in 255
Teams
Career highlights and awards

Joseph Henry "Joe" Garagiola, Sr. (born February 12, 1926) is an American former catcher in Major League Baseball who later became an announcer and television host, popular for his colorful personality. He was well known for being one of the regular panelists of The Today Show on NBC for many years.

Biography[edit]

Early life[edit]

Garagiola was born in St. Louis, Missouri. He grew up on Elizabeth Avenue in an Italian-American neighborhood in St. Louis known as The Hill, just a few doors down from his childhood friend and competitor, Yogi Berra. (That block was subsequently renamed "Hall of Fame Place".)

When Berra and Garagiola were both teenagers, almost all pro scouts rated Garagiola as the better baseball prospect, although Berra had a Hall of Fame career, and Garagiola has always respected Berra's ability. About growing up living next to Berra, Garagiola once said, "Not only was I not the best catcher in the Major Leagues, I wasn't even the best catcher on my street!"

Baseball playing career[edit]

Garagiola with the Pirates.

Garagiola was signed at age 16 by the St. Louis Cardinals organization. At 17 he remains the youngest player to play in Columbus Red Birds (now Columbus Clippers) history. Garagiola made his major league debut in 1946.

As a rookie in 1946, in his only World Series appearance, Garagiola batted a 6-for-19 in five games, including a Game 4 where he went 4-for-5 with 3 RBIs. By contrast, Ted Williams went only 5-for-25 in the same series, which was also Williams' only World Series appearance. On September 11, 1947, Joe Garagiola and Jackie Robinson were involved in an incident at home plate. Garagiola stepped on Robinson’s foot and the two started arguing. Umpire Beans Reardon held back Garagiola while Robinson clapped.[1] The incident was later part of a children’s book titled In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson.

But Garagiola never quite lived up to the promise of his youth, appearing in only 676 games over 9 seasons for St. Louis, the Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago Cubs and New York Giants. He was a mediocre (though certainly good for a catcher) hitter in the majors and featured that in his self-deprecating humor. He once told this story on himself: He knew that it was time to retire, when he was catching and his ex-teammate Stan Musial stepped into the batter's box, turned to Joe, and said, "When are you gonna quit?"

Looking back at his career in 1970, Garagiola observed, "It's not a record, but being traded four times when there are only eight teams in the league tells you something. I thought I was modeling uniforms for the National League."[2]

Books[edit]

After his retirement from baseball, Garagiola lent his name to a 1960 book, Baseball is a Funny Game, which sold well upon release and helped establish Garagiola as a "personality." The (largely ghostwritten) book was a collection of humorous anecdotes surrounding his upbringing and his playing career, and showcased the folksy, humorous style that became his trademark as a broadcaster.

Garagiola was also the author of It's Anybody's Ballgame (1980) and Just Play Ball (2007).[3]

Baseball broadcasting career[edit]

Garagiola turned to broadcasting following his retirement as a player, first calling Cardinals radio broadcasts on KMOX from 1955 to 1962.

As an announcer, Garagiola is best known for his almost 30-year association with NBC television. He began doing national baseball broadcasts for the network in 1961 (teaming with Bob Wolff). Additionally, Garagiola called several World Series on NBC Radio in the 1960s, teaming with a number of announcers including By Saam and George Kell. After a stint doing New York Yankees games from 1965 to 1967 that saw him call Mickey Mantle's 500th home run, Garagiola returned to broadcasting NBC baseball, initially as the host of the pre-game show The Baseball World of Joe Garagiola and then as a play-by-play announcer beginning in 1974.

Garagiola alternated play-by-play duties with Curt Gowdy on NBC until 1976, when he assumed the role full-time. He teamed with color commentator Tony Kubek from 1976 to 1982; in 1983, he shifted to color commentary as Vin Scully joined the network as lead play-by-play announcer. (Kubek joined Bob Costas to form NBC's #2 baseball announcing duo in this era.) Besides working on the Saturday Game of the Week for NBC, the team of Scully and Garagiola would call three All-Star Games (1983, 1985, and 1987), three National League Championship Series (1983, 1985, and 1987) and three World Series (1984, 1986, and 1988).

After calling the 1988 World Series with Scully, Garagiola resigned from NBC Sports. NBC was on the verge of losing the television rights to cover Major League Baseball to CBS. Garagiola claimed that NBC left him "twisting"[4] while he was trying to renegotiate his deal. Garagiola was replaced on the NBC telecasts by Tom Seaver.

After leaving NBC Sports, Garagiola had a brief stint as a television commentator for the California Angels. In recent years, he has performed some color commentary duties for the Arizona Diamondbacks, where his son, Joe Garagiola, Jr., served as general manager. On February 22, 2013 Joe Garagiola, Sr. officially announced his retirement from broadcasting.

Other broadcasting ventures[edit]

Besides calling baseball games for NBC, Garagiola served as a panelist on The Today Show from 1967 to 1973 and again from 1990 to 1992. He also occasionally guest-hosted The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, including for the only live appearances of any members of The Beatles on the program while still a group (John Lennon and Paul McCartney were the guests in May 1968).

In the late 1960s and 1970s, Garagiola also hosted the game shows He Said, She Said; Joe Garagiola's Memory Game; Sale of the Century and To Tell the Truth (as well as a short-lived '80s game, Strike it Rich). He also hosted the St. Louis area professional wrestling show, titled Wrestling at the Chase, and was a regular host of the Orange Bowl Parade in Miami on New Year's Eve. Garagiola also gained a new form of fame thanks to his stints as host of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show for USA Network.

From 1969 to 1970, Garagiola was the Saturday afternoon host of the NBC Radio Network program Monitor. (A link to a sample of his hosting is found below.) During the 1960s, he also contributed commentaries to Monitor for several years and had a daily five-minute morning drivetime sports commentary program on the network.

Testimony at Curt Flood trial[edit]

In 1970, Garagiola appeared at a preliminary trial following former Cardinals outfielder Curt Flood's lawsuit against Major League Baseball challenging the game's reserve clause. Testifying before Judge Irving Ben Cooper in New York, Garagiola defended the clause, a stance he later deemed a "terrible mistake".[5]

Politics[edit]

Joe Garagiola (left) watching election returns with Gerald Ford in 1976. Ford was defeated by Jimmy Carter.

In the 1976 presidential election, Garagiola strongly supported the candidacy of President Gerald Ford. In the fall campaign the Republican National Committee hired Garagiola to do a series of television ads with Ford; the ads consisted of Garagiola talking to Ford in a relaxed, informal setting. Derided by Ford's critics as "The Joe and Jerry Show," the ads in their opinion were considered to have negatively affected the Ford campaign. The two men became close friends, however and on election night 1976, President Ford invited Garagiola to be one of his guests at the White House to watch the results on television.

Advocacy against chewing tobacco[edit]

Garagiola has also been an advocate against the use of chewing tobacco. He had picked up the habit during his playing days with the Cardinals, but quit cold turkey in the late-1950s. He visits major league teams every year during spring training alongside players from his generation who have suffered from cancer related to the addiction.[6]

Society for American Baseball Research[edit]

Garagiola was the keynote luncheon speaker July 28 at the 2007 convention of the Society for American Baseball Research held in St. Louis.

Honors[edit]

Garagiola was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in 1970. He was presented with a Peabody Award in 1973 for his NBC work. In 1991, he was honored by the Baseball Hall of Fame with the Ford C. Frick Award for outstanding broadcasting accomplishments. He was inducted into the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame in 2004. He has also been given his own star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame.[7] The St. Louis Wrestling Hall of Fame inducted him in 2008 for his Wrestling at the Chase broadcasts. In 2012, he was honored by the Catholic Community Foundation of the Diocese of Phoenix, receiving its inaugural Legacy Award at its 24th Annual Crozier Gala for his tireless help and generosity with the St. Peter's Mission School on the Gila River Reservation. (The American Sportscasters Association also honored him for his work with the St. Petrer's Mission School with its Humanitarian Award in 1995.)

On December 4, 2013, Garagiola was named as the 2014 recipient of the Buck O'Neil Lifetime Achievement Award, presented once every three years by the Baseball Hall of Fame for positive contributions to Major League Baseball. The Hall's official announcement specifically cited his advocacy against smokeless tobacco, as well as his role as a founder of the Baseball Assistance Team, a charity that provides grants to needy members of the professional baseball community.[8]

Personal[edit]

As noted above, Garagiola's son, Joe Jr., went on to become the general manager for the Arizona Diamondbacks and later, senior vice president of baseball operations for Major League Baseball. His other son, Steve, is a broadcast journalist as well, serving as a reporter and anchor for WDIV-TV, the NBC affiliate in Detroit.[9] His daughter, Gina, has also worked in TV news, as a field reporter for Arizona station KTVK, and is now a freelance writer. Garagiola, Sr. has eight grandchildren.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Eig, Jonathan (2007). Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson's First Season. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 228. ISBN 978-0-7432-9461-4. 
  2. ^ Sports Illustrated - June 08, 1970
  3. ^ http://www.google.com/search?tbo=p&tbm=bks&q=inauthor:%22Joe+Garagiola%22
  4. ^ [1] Sports Illustrated, December 26, 1988 issue
  5. ^ Snyder, Brad (2006). A Well-Paid Slave: Curt Flood's Fight for Free Agency in Professional Sports. New York: Viking Press. pp. 180–181, 342. ISBN 0-670-03794-X. 
  6. ^ Vecsey, George. "Garagiola, Who Quit, Warns About Chewing Tobacco," The New York Times, Sunday, May 30, 2010.
  7. ^ St. Louis Walk of Fame. "St. Louis Walk of Fame Inductees". stlouiswalkoffame.org. Retrieved 25 April 2013. 
  8. ^ "Joe Garagiola Named Buck O’Neil Award Winner" (Press release). National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. December 4, 2013. Retrieved December 10, 2013. 
  9. ^ News Team - WDIV Detroit

External links[edit]

Media offices
Preceded by
Garry Moore
Host of To Tell the Truth
1977–1978
Succeeded by
Robin Ward in 1980
Awards
Preceded by
Curt Gowdy
World Series network television play-by-play announcer (with Curt Gowdy in 1975 and Dick Enberg in 1982; concurrent with Keith Jackson and Al Michaels in even numbered years)
1975-1982
Succeeded by
Al Michaels (in odd numbered years only) and Vin Scully (in even numbered years only)