Yesterday the baseball world was forced to deal with the loss of Joe Garagiola. Garagiola spent a nine-year playing career as a catcher for the Cardinals, Pirates, Cubs, and then New York Giants. After his playing career was over, Garagiola spent a remarkable 57 years as a baseball broadcaster venturing various avenues, and it is for this career that he will be remembered most.
Garagiola grew up in St. Louis, Missouri where he and legendary Yankees catcher, Yogi Berra, developed a close and personal friendship. Garagiola and Berra grew up in the same neighborhood in St. Louis, which is where they started playing baseball and were both discovered. Both Garagiola and Berra were recruited by Cardinals manager Branch Rickey, but Berra turned down his deal as he was offered only half of what Garagiola was offered for his services. This worked out fine for Berra, as he was eventually discovered and signed by the Yankees and went on to have his Hall of Fame career.
Even though they'd go on to play for separate teams, there was no denying the bond these two shared. Years after growing up across the street from each other, and their families knowing each other, they remained close friends and often spoke to each other. In fact, the picture above is from Yogi Berra day at Yankee Stadium in 1999. Unfortunately for Garagiola, he had to deal with the gripping loss of Berra not too long ago.
"I’ll miss that, always talking to him, hearing the funny things he had to say,"
The fact that they were both catchers and played on different teams, they never let any rivalry or distance get between them.
"Not only was I not the best catcher in the major leagues, I wasn't even the best catcher on my street."
Garagiola spent five seasons playing for the Cardinals between 1946-1951, his longest tenure with any team as a player, during which he won his one and only World Series ring. As a rookie in the 1946 World Series against the Boston Red Sox, Garagiola went 6-for-19 overall, including driving in three runs in a 4-for-5 Game Four appearance. He went on to be traded four times during a mostly underwhelming career, the highlight of which was probably his rookie season. Looking back on his playing career, he had this to say:
"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."
It was that kind of wit and humor that got him into a broadcasting career in the first place. Appearing before a Senate subcommittee in 1954 for a monopoly case involving the Anheuser-Busch brewery, who owned the Cardinals at that time, Garagiola had to defend accusations that the Cardinals were trying to tamper with him and lure him away from the Cubs who he was playing for at the time.
"Senator, how can you tamper with a .250 hitter?"
He made his point and was able to do it in a humorous and entertaining way, which led him to his first job in the Cardinals' booth from 1955-1962. After that he began doing the "Game of the Week" for NBC, but left that in 1965. Garagiola replaced Mel Allen on the Yankees broadcasting team, though, his career broadcasting the Yankees was short lived. He eventually went back to the NBC booth in 1967, however he does hold a place in Yankee history.
After his time with the Yankees, Garagiola returned to NBC to host "The Baseball World of Joe Garagiola" and alternated play-by-play duties with Curt Gowdy until 1976 when he became the full-time play-by-play guy for NBC's "Game of the Week" coverage. He kept that role until shifting to do color commentary as Vin Scully took over the play-by-play duties (if there was ever a guy to lose a job to). The team of Scully and Garagiola covered a few All-Star games, NLCS games, and World Series games, in addition to their Saturday "Game of the Week" duties.
After calling the 1988 World Series, Garagiola resigned from NBC amid rough contract negotiations and joined the then California Angels broadcasting booth. After one season with the Angels in 1990, Garagiola joined the Diamondbacks booth as a part-time color commentator from the 1998 season until the 2012 season. He announced his retirement, after 57 years of broadcasting, in February of 2013.
In addition to baseball broadcasting, Garagiola spent time as a panelist on The Today Show, as well as occasionally filling in as a guest host for The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. He also dabbled as a game show host for shows such as He Said, She Said, Joe Garagiola's Memory Game, Sale of the Century, and To Tell the Truth. It really speaks to the man's talent, ability, and humor that he was given so many chances to put on many different hats.
Jumping from the field to the broadcast booth is no simple task, and not everyone is cut out for it (looking at you, Harold Reynolds), yet there are certain individuals who truly understand the game and can articulate their thoughts that keep fans engaged and interested. Baseball fans had a chance to witness this first hand during the most recent World Series when Alex Rodriguez offered a glimpse of what could be his potential as an analyst. It's no easy task for most people, but Garagiola is one of the individuals who make it seem like the transition would be easy.
Garagiola had no experience in on-air work, but he felt that all those games when he wasn't in the lineup prepared him well. As he told Curt Smith, "I used to sit in the bullpen and say, 'Why the hell doesn’t he throw the curveball?’ Well, all I had to do to become an announcer was take out the ‘hell.’
Or there's that.
While his career with the Yankees was short-lived and not what he will be remembered for, it's important to note his place in history as a friend to Yogi Berra, and his call for Mickey Mantle's 500th home run. In the end, he is someone who will be remembered and will have a place in baseball history.
Rest in peace, Joe.