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A Tribute to Joe Garagiola in His Own Words

By Paul Dickson, January 3, 2017
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When Joe Garagiola died on March 23, 2016, at the age of 90, his many obituary writers were torn between two choices when writing their lead: was he a baseball player who later became a major television personality, or was he a television star who also played Major League baseball? It was a classic toss-up and the kind of dilemma that Garagiola himself would have found worthy of a quick self-effacing remark.

Joseph Henry Garagiola was born in St. Louis on February 12, 1926. He and his childhood friend, Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra, both went on to play in the Major Leagues. As a 20-year-old rookie playing for the St. Louis Cardinals, he first made headlines when he drove in two of the four runs off Ralph Branca in the opener of the 1946 playoff series against the Brooklyn Dodgers. In the ensuing World Series he recorded six hits and four RBIs on 19 plate appearances. It would be his only trip to the World Series as a player. In all, Garagiola played with four teams: the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago Cubs, and New York Giants.

Garagiola’s path from journeyman catcher to broadcaster began near the end of his playing career, in 1954, when he was with the Chicago Cubs. That year he joined other players in testifying before a U.S. Senate subcommittee in hearings regarding baseball’s antitrust exemption. Chairman Senator Edwin Johnson was holding the hearings and asked Garagiola whether baseball owners might have “tampered” with his play in order to lure him to another team. He replied, “Senator, how can you tamper with a .250 hitter?” His actual batting average over a nine-year career was .257.

His testimony delighted all onlookers, including those providing media coverage, and propelled Joe into a radio job with the Cardinals. He was a play-by-play baseball announcer for NBC for nearly 30 years, calling three World Series, three All-Star Games, and three National League Championships. He was a guest host on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show several times and was a co-host of the Today Show. He hosted several game shows and won a Peabody. The Baseball Hall of Fame honored Garagiola with the Ford C. Frick Award in 1991 for broadcasting and presented him with the Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014 for his overall contributions to the game.

As a rookie member of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1946, Joe Garagiola played in his only World Series.

Here are some of his best quotations that underscore his ability to entertain:

“A clubhouse lawyer is a .210 hitter who isn’t playing. He gripes about everything. His locker is too near the dryer. His shoes aren’t ever shined right. His undershirt isn’t dry. His bats don’t have the good knots in them that the stars’ bats have. He’s not playing because the manager is dumb. When he does play he says, ‘Well, what could you expect? I ain’t played in two weeks.’ And he’s a perpetual second guesser.”

            —Quoted in Sports, April 1962

“Baseball gives you every chance to be great. Then it puts every pressure on you to prove that you haven’t got what it takes. It never takes away the chance, and it never eases up on the pressure.”

            —Baseball Is a Funny Game, by Joe Garagiola

“Baseball is drama with an endless run and an ever-changing cast.”

            –Baseball Is a Funny Game, by Joe Garagiola

“Best catcher in the major leagues? I wasn’t even the best catcher on my street.”

            —Alluding to the fact that he had been born across the street
from Yogi Berra: Joe at house number 5446, Yogi at 5447

“Each year I don’t play, I get better. The first year on the banquet trail, I was a former ballplayer, the second year I was great, the third year one of baseball’s stars, and just last year I was introduced as one of baseball’s immortals. The older I get, the more I realize that the worst break I had was playing.”

            —On his baseball career

“Ever shake hands with an old catcher? It’s like reaching into a bag of peanuts.”

            —Oft-repeated line uttered after a foul tip or bad pitch
short-hops the catcher and hits his bare hand

“He threw nothing but elbows and fingernails at you, and pretty soon the ball came.”

            — Speaking of a pitcher with a funky delivery

“He’s even tempered. He comes to the ballpark mad and stays that way.”

            —On Rick Burleson

“I believe in telling the people. In fact, I’ll try to build up the audience by saying, ‘If you’ve got any friends not listening, call them up. We might have a no-hitter here tonight.’”

—On mentioning no-hitters in progress as a broadcaster,
quoted in No-Hitter, by Phil Pepe

“I know a baseball star who wouldn’t report the theft of his wife’s credit cards because the thief spends less than she does.”

            —From It’s Anybody’s Ballgame, by Joe Garagiola

I made a real effort to become a talk-for-pay guy. Every day I agitated Harry Caray, the St. Louis Cardinal broadcaster, about what a soft job he had. His answer was that if I could hit like I could talk, I wouldn’t have any worries.”

            —From Baseball Is a Funny Game, by Joe Garagiola

Photo Credit: Lorie Shaull on Flickr


“I want the broadcast to sound like two guys sitting at the ballpark, talking about the game, with the viewer eavesdropping. It’s not High Mass, and it’s not a seminar—it’s a ballgame.”

            —Describing his approach as an announcer

“I see the Mets’ bats have arrived!”

            —At a banquet in the early 1960s when the caterers brought in some long loaves
of bread and the New York team was rich in pitchers but poor offensively

“I went through life as a player to be named later.”

            —Epitaphic line, oft-quoted by Garagiola and others

“If he held out his right arm, he’d be a railroad crossing.”

            —On Boog Powell, widely quoted

“It sounded like he hit that one with a rolled-up Sporting News.”

            —As a broadcaster after a batter is jammed and fists a slow roller to an infielder

“It’s pitching, hitting, and defense that wins. Any two can win. All three make you unbeatable.”

            —Baseball Is a Funny Game, by Joe Garagiola

In September of 1954, Garagiola was traded by the Chicago Cubs to the New York Giants where he would wrap up his major league career.

“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.”

            —1970 quotation, Garagiola had only been traded three times, but four sounded better

“It’s the same as any other ballgame you’ll remember as long as you live.”

            —On playing in the World Series

“Ma’am, if I start to say he’s running or he’s throwing or he’s hitting, I ain’t going to be working.”

            —Response to a woman who complained that Garagiola kept dropping “g” from words
that ended in -ing.“You always say he’s runnin’ or he’s throwin’ or he’s hittin.”

“Maybe one day [attorney] F. Lee Bailey will be the most valuable player in the American League. And the things players are asking—guaranteed playing time, so many starts for pitchers. . . . Where will it end? Eventually you’ll have a batter file a grievance if he gets a curveball on a 3-and-2 count.”

            —On the state of the game as quoted in the New York Times on March 27, 1977

“One thing you can be sure of, you’ll never hear anyone say I knew someone exactly like Bart Giamatti.”

            —At Carnegie Hall, 1989

“One thing you learn as a Cubs fan: When you bought your ticket, you could bank on seeing the bottom of the ninth.”

—In the Christian Science Monitor, October 10, 1978

“Players have hurts and fears and anxieties. As an announcer, I’m strictly for the underdog.”

            —Quoted by Lee Allen, in Cooperstown Corner

Joe Garagiola (second from left) along with teammates Rocky Nelson, Hal Rice and Edward Sauer get tips from slugger Stan Musial in 1949.

“Stan comes sauntering up to the plate and asks me how my family’s making out. Before I can answer him, he’s on third base.”

            —On Stan Musial, quoted in Bennett Cerf’s Life of the Party

“The Chicago Cubs are like Rush Street—a lot of singles, but no action.”

            —As a broadcaster

“There won’t be a hair dryer within 20 miles of the booth.”

            —On being teamed with another thin-haired broadcaster, Joe Torre, on California Angels’
telecasts, 1990 season, Major League Baseball Newsletter, April 1990

“This is not a painting.”

            —As a sportscaster in Cincinnati describing a stunned crowd as the Reds fell behind

“When I was coming up, a scout reported that my speed was deceptive. He said I was slower than I looked.”

            —Example of his self-deprecating humor, recalled at the time of his death

“You can plant two thousand rows of corn with the fertilizer Lasorda spreads around.”

            —On Tommy Lasorda during an NBC telecast

“You know how particular the players are about the model bats they select every year. Well, whenever I asked for mine, the clubhouse boy would never ask what kind. He’d ask what for.”

            —Quoted by Herman L. Masin in Baseball Laughs





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