Baseball Great Joe Garagiola Dies at 90

Joe Garagiola, 1951
Joe Garagiola, 1951, Photo: 33ft/iStock/Thinkstock

Joe Garagiola died last week. He was 90 years old.

He and Yogi Berra grew up on the same block in St. Louis, Missouri back in the day. Yogi became a Hall of Fame catcher, while Joe was also a Major League catcher but never much more than a journeyman. There were just eight teams in the National League at the time, and Garagiola was to play on four of them. Four out of eight wasn’t bad, he said. He later said that he not only was not the best catcher in baseball, he was not even the best catcher on his block.

The highlight of his career was when his team, the St. Louis Cardinals, made it to the World Series. It was the only occasion he played in the World Series, and he batted 6 for 19 in 5 games, including one game where he went 4 for 5 with 3 RBIs. On the other side were Ted Williams and the Boston Red Sox. Williams only batted 5 for 25. The Cardinals won. Later, after he retired, Garagiola appeared before Senate Committee Chairman Senator Edwin Johnson who was holding hearings about 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?”

After he retired, his charming aw-shucks demeanor brought him to the attention of the broadcast industry. 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 wrote books about his baseball career. He also became a TV personality. He was a guest host on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show several times, including the night when John Lennon and Paul McCartney appeared on the show. He was part of the panel on game shows (He Said, She Said; To Tell the Truth) he met celebrities, politicians and royalty and, as a lifelong Republican, became pals with President Gerald Ford, did campaign ads with him and was with him watching the election returns when Ford lost his attempt to get a second term. He won a Peabody, the Ford Frick Award and was inducted into the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame.

You probably don’t know where I’m going with this story, so I’ll tell you. At the present time we have three very sorry-looking Republicans still vying to be the Republican nominee for President. John Kasich is too lethargic, Ted Cruz is so unpopular that it’s said if another senator shot him on the Senate floor and the trial was in the Senate, the senators would vote not to convict. And then there’s Donald Trump.

I think the Republicans should run Joe Garagiola for President this November. He’s been a baseball player, a sports commentator, an actor, a TV game show panelist, a guest host on The Tonight Show, a friend of politicians and celebrities, and everybody likes him. Too bad he’s dead.

But that shouldn’t stop anybody.