Most identified with the Cardinals, after serving in the Army during WWII Joe stayed in St. Louis from 1946-51 as a (mostly) backup catcher, playing in the 1946 World Series along the way. However, this reprint of his 1951 Bowman card produced by CCC resides in my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection as a result of his two, not-so-notable partial seasons spent on the Northside from 1953-54. He also spent time with the Pirates and the Giants.
Joe putting on the tools of ignorance in Wrigley Field, image courtesy of Getty Images
Joe swung a decent stick (.257 career batting average) and played well defensively, but never really capitalized on the promise that brought him to the Bigs at the tender age of 20. Much like another contemporary backstop in Bob Uecker, Joe owned it with self-deprecating humor. Some famous quotes attributed to him include:
"He knew that it was time to retire when he was catching, and his ex-teammate Stan Musial stepped into the batter's box, turned to Joe, and said, "When are you gonna quit?"
"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."
After his playing career came to and end with a 5 game stint in a New York Giants uniform in '54, Joe took to the broadcasting booth, where he truly found his calling. Starting out as a local Cardinals voice, Joe eventually went national on NBC's Game of the Week crew, calling several World Series and All Star games and even having his own special pre-game segment known as "The Baseball World of Joe Garagiola," which often featured wacky, off-kilter baseball-related stories.
Joe interviewing "the Kid" for an NBC telecast, image courtesy of al.com
Leaving NBC after the 1988 season, Joe spent time as the voice of the Angels and the Diamondbacks (with whom his son, Joe Jr. was the GM) right up until the 2012 season, after which he announced his retirement.
For his troubles, Garagiola was inducted into the Hall of Fame as the winner of the Ford Frick Award in 1991.
It seems to be universally accepted that Joe was an all-around good guy and one of the most respected personalities across the sport. Much like the passing of Don Zimmer a few years back, the loss of this baseball lifer is being felt all throughout in the MLB community.
Another baseball lifer who's presence was interwoven into the fabric of the game
Joe's passing has reminded me that Cubgrading the Cardinals card seen at the top of this post is still on my long to-do list. As far as I am aware, there is only one card that depicts Joe's brief stint in the home clubhouse at Wrigley Field, his 1954 Bowman single:
I'll have to keep my eye open for one of these; although, one can assume that prices on his cards are going to temporarily spike due to opportunistic vultures. That's the way it goes, I guess.
At any rate, Joe Garagiola truly made the baseball world a much more entertaining place and the influence you had on the next generations of broadcasters will keep his legacy alive for many years yet to come.