Joe Garagiola: Legendary Italian / American Baseball Personality (1926-2016)

Joseph Henry Garagiola was Born on February 12, 1926 in the Italian section of a neighborhood called the Hill, in St. Louis, Missouri.

Garagiola grew up across the street from Yogi Berra and the two became close friends throughout their life. Also on the same block would eventually live broadcaster Jack Buck & his son Joe Buck as well as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The street was recently renamed Hall of Fame place. 

 As teenagers the scouts considered Garagiola the better prospect, although it was Berra who went on to a Hall of Fame career. Garagiola who always made jokes at his own expense would say, “Not only was I not the best catcher in the Major Leagues, I wasn't even the best catcher on my street!" 

Trivia: Back in 2001 centerfiedlmaz, Party Pete, WFUV's Darren Devivo & Den took a baseball trip to Missouri. Visiting both Kansas City & St. Louis. In St. Louis we stopped at the Hill neighborhood, visiting both Yogi Berra & Joe Garagila's childhood homes. Both located on the same street across from each other.

He was signed at the age of 16, by his hometown St. Louis Cardinals, playing in the minor leagues at AA Columbus the next year. He is still the youngest player to ever play for that team, in their long history. In 1944 he batted .293 at Columbus, then went to serve two years military duty in World War II. He returned home at the age of 20 & quickly became the Cardinals main catcher. 

 In 74 games he batted .237 with 3 HRs four doubles 22 RBIs & a .312 on base %. Behind the plate he posted a .990 fielding % throwing out 44% of would be base stealers.

That season, he went on play in the only World Series of his career, winning a world's championship beating the Boston Red Sox. His team mates included; Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter & Red Schoendiest.

1946 World Series: In the World Series Garagiola batted .316 (6-19) with a pair of doubles & four RBIs. In Game #4 at Boston, he had four hits, going 4-5 while driving in three runs. In the seventh inning, he hit a two run double off Red Sox pitcher, Bill Zuber, in the Cards 12-3 win.

Garagiola, became the first rookie catcher to have a four hit World Series game, it would not happen again until 2010 when Buster Posey did it for the San Francisco Giants. 

 The following season, he became the backup catcher to Del Rice but would still see ample playing time. He would remain in that role into the 1951 season. Defensively he threw out 40% or more of would be base stealers every year in St. Louis, coming in among tops in the league each season.

The rest of his playing career never reached the potential that was projected for him early on. Overall he was a weak hitter, never hitting more than 11 HRs in a season (1951). He batted a career best .318 in just 34 games in 1950, otherwise he never hit above .280.

His Cardinals finished in second place three straight years, after their 1946 Championship season. In June of 1951, he was traded to the Pittsburg Pirates in a seven player swap. He led all NL catchers in fielding % (.989) on the season as well as hitting those career high 11 HRs. With the last place Pirates he saw the most playing time of his career, appearing in over 100 games over the 1952 / 1953 seasons. 

In 1952 he caught 105 games behind the plate & batted .273 with 8 HRs 54 RBIs & a .362 on base %. The following season he was traded to the Chicago Cubs along with Ralph Kiner, where he played for parts of two seasons. One of his classic quotes on the Cubs was: " One thing you learned as a Cubs fan: when you bought your ticket, you could bank on seeing the bottom of the ninth." 

He was traded to the New York Giants in late September 1954 in their final Championship season in New York. He appeared in five games for the Giants behind Wes Westrum & Ray Katt but did not appear in the World Series.

In his nine year playing career he batted .257 with 42 HRs 82 doubles 16 triples 255 RBIs & a .354 on base %. In 614 games behind the plate he posted a .986 fielding %, throwing out 36% of would be base stealers. 

 Broadcaster/Celebrity Career: Garagiola always looked back on his playing career making jokes about it, “ I knew that it was time to retire, when I was catching and ex-teammate Stan Musial stepped into the batter's box, turned to me and said, "When are you gonna quit?".

He also said “ 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”. 

After baseball Garagiola became a huge celebrity inside & outside of the game. Fans of my generation grew up with Garagiola as the long time broadcaster for NBC, on the NBC Game of the Week, long before MLB network & ESPN.

Garagiola teamed up with the legendary Curt Gowdy as color man (1974-1976). He was also a play by play man with Tony Kubek (1976-1982). He also worked as a field reporter, doing interviews on all the World Series, League Championship Series & All Star Games of the early seventies. 

He brought us funny interviews & stories from some of baseball’s lesser known personalities on his classic pre-game show “The Baseball World of Joe Garagiola”. The ground breaking baseball program was critically acclaimed, giving him major celebrity status. 

 Through the years he did funny interviews with his friend Yogi Berra, most notably to Met fans, during the 1973 World Series when Berra managed the Mets. He did a great interview with Hank Aaron during that ’73 post season, as Aaron was chasing down Babe Ruth's HR record going into the 1974 season. He also hosted the Bazooka Bubble Gum blowing contest with MLB players in the seventies.

Garagiola later teamed up with Vin Scully in the eighties as NBC’s color man on weekly broadcasts. Together they did the 1986 World Series, as well as the 1984 & 1988 World Series’.

After the 1988 Series, he resigned from NBC after nearly thirty years, saying they left him twisting in negotiating a new contract. He was replaced by Hall of Famer Tom Seaver.

Hosting the Tonight Show 1968 with
guests; John Lennon & Paul McCartney 
Garagiola originally began broadcasting games on radio for the St. Louis Cardinals in the fifties & early sixties. He then worked as a broadcaster with the AL New York club (1965-1967) California Angels (1990) & has done occasional work with the Arizona Diamondbacks until his retirement in 2013. 

His son, Joe Garagiola Jr. served as General Manager there from 1997-2005 winning a World Series in 2001. Joe Jr. attended the University of Notre Dame & recently worked as the senior V.P. For MLB. 

Outside of baseball Garagiola worked on NBC’s The Today Show from 1967-1973, then again from 1990-1992. He also appeared as a guest, as well as guest hosted Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show in the sixties & seventies, multiple times.

In May of 1968 he was the guest host when Beatles; John Lennon & Paul McCartney appeared on the show, to promote the Beatles new business venture, Apple. 

In those years, Garagiola also hosted the game shows; He Said, She Said; Joe Garagiola's Memory Game; Sale of the Century; To Tell the Truth; and Strike it Rich. 

He was a regular on the New Years Eve, Orange Bowl Parade in Miami, as well as the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.; & local St. Louis wrestling.

He was also a close friend to former US President Gerald Ford, whom he had met during a celebrity golf outing. He promoted Gerald Ford during his 1976 presidential campaign with television ads. 

 Garagiola has written some great baseball books, including the 1960's classic; Baseball is A Funny Game. He also authored; It’s Anybody’s Ballgame (1980) & Just Play Ball (2007). 

Quotes: "Baseball is drama with an endless run and an ever-changing cast." - Joe Garagiola.

As he got to his late eighties he moved into a retirement community, just as his old friend Yogi Berra had done. On a recent phone conversation the two had about that topic Garagiola recalls the talk with Yogi. "I said, 'How's it going, Yog? and he said, 'It's all right, but geez, they've got a lot of old people here."

On March 23rd 2016, Joe Garagiola passed away at the age of 90.

The Garagiola Family released this statement:  "We are deeply saddened by the loss of this amazing man who was not just beloved by those of us in his family, but to generations of baseball fans who he impacted during his eight decades in the game. Joe loved the game and passed that love onto family, his friends, his teammates, his listeners and everyone he came across as a player and broadcaster. His impact on the game, both on and off the field, will forever be felt."


Boca said…
What a classy guy and he will be missed! The position of catcher is the toughest on the body but Joe endured.

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