Photo Credit: Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press
Legendary catcher and broadcaster Joe Garagiola passed away today at the age of 90.
Garagiola, who came from the Hill section of St. Louis to become a Major League catcher like his boyhood and lifetime friend Yogi Berra.
He joins Berra as one of baseball’s most beloved players and characters. Garagiola passed away six months and one day after the passing of his close friend.
I wrote the following column on April 6, 2014, after watching Garagiola honored on Opening Day in Chase Field in Phoenix before the Diamnondbacks opened the season against the San Francisco Giants:
On Opening Day in Phoenix, we had the pleasure of watching Joe Garagiola recognized as the winner of the Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award. The award, given by the Board of Directors of the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, recognizes those who have demonstrated extraordinary efforts to enhance baseball’s positive impact on society. The formal award presentation will be made on Hall of Fame weekend, July 26.
Garagiola was one of the founders of the Baseball Assistance Team (BAT), which is an organization which helps members of the baseball family who have experienced hard times and are in need of assistance.
He is also a founder and driving force in the National Spit Tobacco Education Program, designed to discourage the use of tobacco by youngsters.
Garagiola spent the last fifteen years broadcasting Arizona Diamondbacks baseball. He retired from broadcasting baseball last year at the age of 87 after 58-years behind various mikes.
Other than being a broadcaster, Garagiola had an undistinguished nine-year major league baseball career.
In his nine seasons, he played in only 676 games and had a career batting average of just .257. He was a member of the 1946 World Series Championship St. Louis Cardinals in his rookie year, playing in just 74 games and hitting .239. In his career as a broadcaster, he often poked fun at his baseball career, saying once that he “went through baseball as a ‘player to be named later’.”
It was as a broadcaster that he made himself a household name, however. He started out with Harry Caray doing Cardinal games in 1955. He moved to doing New York Yankee games with Red Barber in 1965 and went to NBC Baseball in 1988, where he worked with both Curt Gowdy and Vin Scully. He received the Ford C. Frick Award in 1991 and is recognized in the Broadcaster’s Wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
His career took him to many different broadcasting venues in addition to baseball. He was a regular on the Today Show, an occasional host of the Tonight Show, covered the
Rose Bowl Parade and, in his most unlikely venture, hosted the broadcast of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. There aren’t many baseball people from his era still around and it is nice to see that baseball still appreciates the contributions he and his generation made to the game.
I was fortunate to have been in Chase Field that day. Baseball will miss Joe Garagiola. The two left-handed hitting catchers from the Hill were a great rags-to-riches stories and contributed much to the game.