Joe Garagiola, Sr.: A Major League Great Passes on at 90

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Former Major League Baseball player and announcer Joe Garagiola, Sr. passed away at the age of 90, on March 23rd, 2016, only 40 days after having crossed the 9 decade milestone. Like Sir George Martin, another nonagenarian who recently passed away, almost 3 generations of fans will mourn Garagiola’s death.

Joseph Henry Garagiola, Sr. was born in St. Louis, MO on February 12th, 1926. He lived across the street from fellow baseball great Yogi Berra. The two grew up together, started their baseball careers together, and remained lifelong friends. Their neighborhood block was renamed “Hall of Fame Place”. (Note: While Garagiola never made the Baseball Hall of Fame, unlike Berra, he never had a larcenous cartoon character named after him).

Garagiola played catcher over 9 different seasons in a MLB career that started in 1946 and saw him playing for his hometown St. Louis Cardinals, the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Chicago Cubs and finally the New York Giants in 1954. In his rookie season with the Cardinals, they won the World Series in 1946, defeating the Boston Red Sox in the 7th game. His years as a pro would never measure up to this yardstick, and after retirement he joked, “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”.

However it was his self-deprecating humor and affable charm for which he will be remembered the most. Many former athletes leave the playing field for the broadcast booth, but very few do it well and even a mere fraction of those do it as memorably or for as long as Garagiola. He started announcing for the Cardinals locally in 1955, but it was his nearly 30 year stint with NBC Sports starting in 1961 that kept him in the hearts and minds (and living rooms) of millions of fans of televised sports.

Along with calling games with Curt Gowdy, Vin Scully and Tony Kubek, NBC made full use of Garagiola’s talents as a panelist on “The Today Show” and as a guest host for Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show”. He appeared on talk shows, on game shows as both a host and celebrity panelist, appeared in TV commercials and even played himself in “Catch Me If You Can” with Tom Hanks as directed by Steven Spielberg. His only credit as an actor in a role was on the 1970s NBC crime drama “Police Story”.

Garagiola was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame and the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame, received a Peabody Award for his work on NBC and a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame. He finished his career calling games for the Arizona Diamondbacks, where his son Joe Garagiola, Jr. was general manager. He provided color commentary from 1998 through 2012, and retired officially the following year. He will be remembered as the name, face and voice of baseball by the multitudes that loved him and the game in a pre-cable, non-ESPN era. God bless Joe Garagiola, Sr.

 

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