Monday, March 31, 2014
Great Voices From the Past!
I had an instant last week when all of the great voices of baseball echoed in my brain. One at a time, naturally, as there just isn’t room for all of them: Vin Scully, Harry Caray, Tom Cheek, Red Barber, Ernie Harwell, Jon Miller, Jack Buck, Tony Kubek, Early Wynn, Phil Rizutto, Bill White, Mel Allen, Dizzy Dean, Dave Van Horne, Curt Gowdy,Tim McCarver, Bob Uecker, Ken Coleman, Jerry Coleman, and Joe Garagiola. Current broadcaster Dan Shulman, a Canadian, does a fine job as well. Most were winners of the Ford Frick Award, an annual affair at Cooperstown.
I touched on the fact last week that I had spent an afternoon beside Joe Garagiola, Junior. He is now working for Major League Baseball as a Vice President, in a role similar to that of Brendan Shanahan in hockey.
His father spent ten seasons in the Major Leagues as a player. He signed with the Cardinals as an amateur free agent in 1942, but made his debut on May 26, 1946, when he was twenty years old. He spent his first six years with the Cards, before being traded to the Pirates. He had a stint with the Cubs, and finished his playing career with the Giants.
So that was his fourth team in the National League, when there were only eight teams in the League. He remembers squatting behind the plate when the great Stan Musial stepped up to bat. He looked back at Garagiola, surprised to see him in a Giants uniform. “What the heck are you doing there?” Musial asked.
Garagiola told him that he had been traded. Musial asked, “You did, when?” Joe replied, “This morning.” Musial then asked, somewhat surprised, “Why don’t you quit?” and Joe retorted, as only he could, “Now?”
Garagiola added wit and wisdom to the game whenever he was behind the microphone. He spent 57 years in the broadcast booth. I dare say that he knew everyone in baseball for the latter half of the 20th century. My recollection of the titles of the games, and the networks, is always a little vague. I think the game was advertised as “The Game of the Week,” and it usually was on a Saturday afternoon. But that was the time to settle in with a couple of cold ones to enjoy the great game, and the greatest stars.
Garagiola often teamed with his childhood friend Yogi Berra on the rubber chicken circuit. They grew up together on “The Hill”, an Italian sector in St. Louis. Berra recalled watching Garagiola in the 1946 World Series. Joe hit .314 in the series, outhitting Musial and Ted Williams. After the Series was completed, they both worked together in the hardware section of Sears, Roebuck and Co. Garagiola recalls that Berra “was not much of an expert in hardware. A customer asked Yogi about a specific kind of screw. Yogi went blank. He pointed at the jars of screws and told the customer he couldn’t tell one from another. He said, ‘Pick it out yourself.’” From Yogi Berra, Eternal Yankee, by Allen Barra.
Garagiola moved into a retirement community a couple of years ago, as did Berra. He called Berra after moving in. He asked, “How’s it going, Yog?” Berra replied, “It’s all right, but geez, they’ve got a lot of old people here!”
He remembered a pitcher with a funky delivery: “He threw nothing but elbows and fingernails at you, and, pretty soon, the ball came.”
Garagiola is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame; however, he says his most cherished baseball memory came when he witnessed the Diamond Backs winning the World Series in 2001. His son had put together that team as General Manager, and Joe was justifiably proud of his boy.
Garagiola enhanced the game for all his listeners, and his friends. Always.