Let's forget about the seventh-inning stretch, fireworks on the Fourth of July, peanuts and Cracker Jack for a moment. You couldn't get more baseball than Joe Garagiola. Even his famously bald head was shaped like one.So none of those other things mattered when it came to the bottom line involving
Let's forget about the seventh-inning stretch, fireworks on the Fourth of July, peanuts and Cracker Jack for a moment. You couldn't get more baseball than Joe Garagiola. Even his famously bald head was shaped like one.
So none of those other things mattered when it came to the bottom line involving this meager Major League catcher for nine years turned iconic face of our national pastime for nearly six decades.
As for those other things, Garagiola was Mr. Versatility for NBC. He had two stints as a regular panelist on "The Today Show," which dealt more with politics and fashions than balls and strikes. Garagiola hosted game shows, parades on holidays and national dog contests. He also was among the few people that Johnny Carson trusted to serve as a substitute host on "The Tonight Show."
As for that bottom line, Garagiola was a baseball guy, period, especially for those who hugged the sport during his days as the lead broadcaster for the "Game of the Week" from the mid-1970s through the latter 1980s. First, it was Garagiola and Tony Kubek during that run, and then Garagiola and Vin Scully, but the common thread was Garagiola, the always effervescent St. Louis native from the same Italian neighborhood as Hall of Famer Yogi Berra.
How did we know that? Well, Garagiola told us as much nearly every broadcast, and we didn't mind. Every one of his broadcasts was filled with stories and one-liners, and the overwhelming majority of them involved baseball.
Which brings me to one of the first things I thought about when I heard Garagiola died this week at 90: Where was that video? It was the one I watched often after I purchased it more than 35 years ago.
The video is so old that it isn't on Blu-ray, DVD or even VHS. It's on Beta.
Eventually, I found the 60-minute video with a copyright of 1980, and the outside cover read, "Baseball: Fun and games. A hilarious new collection of the greatest baseball bloopers. Hosted by Joe Garagiola." Good thing I still have a Beta machine, and it works, too.
While chomping on peanuts and Cracker Jack in my mind, I popped in the video and the memories flowed. Within seconds, Garagiola mentioned on the screen another one of his favorite baseball people -- Casey Stengel. He told of how the Hall of Fame manager spent his first Spring Training with the struggling Mets during the early 1960s standing before his new players on the first day and saying while holding up a baseball, "Gentlemen, this is a baseball."
Then Garagiola paused courtesy of his always perfect comedic timing before adding, "Did you know four guys didn't know what that was?"
That was followed by Garagiola's Dizzy Dean story. He said the Cardinals pitcher despised hitters who became too comfortable at the plate so much that he'd tell them about it. "He'd say, 'Dig yourself a big one, sonny boy, because old Diz is going to bury you in it.'" And speaking of no-nonsense hurlers, there was Garagiola's story about Burleigh Grimes, who retired in 1934 as the last Major League spitball pitcher. Garagiola said Grimes was so ornery that he would knock a hitter down for swinging too hard.
The video was more than Garagiola stories. There were those bloopers as advertised, with Garagiola's unique view of gaffes on the mound, at the plate, in the field and around the dugout. Then there was a tribute to the unique fans and mascots of that 1970s, ranging from Morganna the Kissing Bandit, to the San Diego Chicken. There also were several baseball quizzes, involving legendary moments from postseason games.
Through it all, Garagiola entertained. He told of how Willie Stargell used to say that "Umpires don't say, 'Work ball,' to start the game. They say, 'Play ball." Mostly, there was Garagiola being Garagiola, demonstrated by the following: He said that among the most colorful baseball fans during his playing days through the mid-1950s were two brothers in Philadelphia. He said one sat along the first-base side and the other along the third-base side. "They were my first introduction to stereo," Garagiola said straight-faced, with your imagination adding a rim-shot at the end.
The video just added to my fondness of Garagiola, who always brought importance to a baseball moment. That was even before his days as the primary guy on The Game of the Week, when he hosted pregame shows for NBC during the postseason. I still get chills as a Big Red Machine fan when I listen to my audio recording of Garagiola saying, "From Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium. Game 1 of the 1972 World Series between the American League champion Oakland A's and the National League champion Cincinnati Reds."
No jokes in those words. Instead, I hear a baseball voice that was special then and that will remain that way forever.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com.