From Baseball in wartime
- February 12, 1926
- 190 lbs
- Major League Debut:
- 5-26-1946 with SLN
"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." In 1970, Garagiola observing his baseball career.
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.
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!"
Even though Joe Garagiola’s career with the Pirates is nothing to write home about, he took the experiences he had with one of the worst teams in the annuls of the game beginning, perhaps, the most successful broadcasting career a former major league player ever had.
The catcher came up with the Cardinals in 1946 and while he only hit .236 in his freshman campaign, he had a very successful venture in the World Series against Boston accumulating 4 hits and 3 RBI’s in a 12-3 rout of the Red Sox in game 4. Joe would go on to hit .316 in the Series.
After three unremarkable seasons with the club, Garagiola looked like he was having a breakout offensive season in 1950, hitting .347 when he was playing a game against the Brooklyn Dodgers. While running to first, he was trying to avoid a collision with Jackie Robinson when he fell and separated his shoulder. He was out of the lineup from June 1st until September 3rd, going only 2 for 13 the rest of the season, falling to .318, a level he would never come close to achieving again.
Joe got off to a slow start the next year and was dealt to the Bucs with three other players for Cliff Chambers and Wally Westlake. His best season was his only full one with the team as he hit .273 as the starting catcher with a career best 54 RBI’s.
His stay in the Steel City was short as he was part of the Ralph Kiner trade to the Cubs on June 4th 1953, when the Pirates sent the Hall of Famer and Garagiola along with Catfish Metkovich and Howie Pollet for six players including Toby Atwell, Preston Ward, and $150,000.
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 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?"
Baseball broadcasting career
Garagiola would play only one more season before beginning his second, and much more wildly successful career as a broadcaster. He started out with Harry Carey in St Louis before moving on to replace the legendary Mel Allen with the Yankees in 1965. During that time he also laded a job as analyst on NBC’s Major League Game of the Week in 1961, a job he held onto until 1988.
Other broadcasting ventures
Apart from baseball, he was a guest on the Tonight Show several times in the 60’s and parlayed that to the host of the Today Show, which he held from 1969 to 1973.
Through it all perhaps his greatest moment was in 1991, when he finally entered the Hall of Fame, not as a player but as recipient of the Ford Frick Award, the highest honor that can be bestowed upon a baseball broadcaster, finally and forever enshrining him in Cooperstown as one of the giants in the baseball broadcasting history.
He has also been given his own star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame.
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 critics as "The Joe and Jerry Show," the ads largely served only to reinforce the perception that Ford was inept and inarticulate, and were considered by most to have negatively affected the Ford campaign. The two men became close friends, however; 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
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.
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. 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.
Nine Other Players Who Debuted in 1946
1946 World Series
* St. Louis Cardinals (1946-1951)
* Pittsburgh Pirates (1951-1953)
* Chicago Cubs (1953-1954)
* New York Giants (1954)
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