ST. LOUIS (KTVI) - Joe Garagiola, a beloved St. Louisan from The Hill neighborhood who grew up to play baseball with the Cardinals, has died. He was 90.
Garagiola grew up on the same street as fellow baseball great--and fellow catcher--Yogi Berra. The two men were lifelong friends.
The Cardinals signed Garagiola to their farm system when he was just 16 years of age. He made his Major League debut in 1946, when the team went to the World Series. Garagiola recorded six hits and 4 RBI on 19 plate appearances in the series. It would be his only trip to the World Series.
Garagiola's baseball career did not end on a high note, spending his final four seasons being traded from the Cardinals to the Pirates, then to the Chicago Cubs, and finally to the New York Giants. He retired in 1954 with a .257 batting average, 255 RBI, and 42 home runs.
But Garagiola found his niche in broadcasting, calling games for the Cardinals on KMOX Radio from 1955 to 1962, and national broadcasts for NBC. He served as the first play-by-play man for the popular 'Wrestling at The Chase' program on KPLR until leaving the show in 1963. Thanks to his NBC contract, Garagiola served as a frequent panelist on the 'Today' show and even guest hosted 'The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.'
His gregarious personality afforded him opportunities to host a number of game shows in the late 60s and early 70s, including 'Sale of the Century' and 'To Tell the Truth.'
In 1970, Garagiola was inducted to the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame. He was honored with the prestigious Peabody Award in 1973.
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.
Between 1998 and 2012, he worked part-time as a color commentator for the Arizona Diamondbacks. His son, Joe Jr., worked as the general manager. Garagiola retired in 2013.
Baseball Commissioner Robert D. Manfred, Jr. issued the following statement:
“All of us at Major League Baseball are deeply saddened by the loss of Joe Garagiola. Joe began illustrious career as a baseball player, but it wasn’t long before everyone knew that this unique individual would combine his multi-talented media skills and wonderful personality to make a mark off the field as well. Following his nine-year playing career, which included a 1946 World Series Championship with the St. Louis Cardinals, Joe became a broadcasting icon during his 58 years behind the microphone. The winner of the Baseball Hall of Fame's Ford C. Frick Award in 1991 and Buck O'Neill Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014, Joe narrated countless memorable moments, including Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle's 500th career home run, as well as three All-Star Games and three World Series during the 1980s, working alongside fellow broadcast legend Vin Scully.
With all of Joe’s professional successes, it was behind the scenes where Joe has had an equally impressive impact. For his work with kids, Joe was named the 1998 recipient of the Children’s MVP Award presented by the Jim Eisenreich Foundation. He served baseball as a leader in the fight against smokeless tobacco, working with NSTEP – the National Spit Tobacco Education Program – and traveling to each Major League camp during Spring Training to educate players about the dangers of tobacco and oral cancer. He was also a tireless supporter and longtime champion for the Baseball Assistance Team, which helps members of the baseball family who are in need.
Joe's love of the game was always on display, and his knowledge and insight is something that I truly admired. On behalf of Major League Baseball, I extend my deepest condolences to Joe's wife Audrey, their son, MLB Senior Vice President long-time baseball executive Joe Jr., as well as son Steve, daughter Gina, and their entire family, as well as his countless friends and admirers throughout our game."