Charming, self-deprecating ballplayer gained wide fame and acclaim for his television career, including notable stints as a panelist on the “Today” show
Joe Garagiola, the gregarious baseball player who became a daytime-TV star through his appearances on the “Today” show, died Wednesday at age 90.
The Arizona Diamondbacks, for which Garagiola provided color commentary until he retired from broadcasting in 2013, announced his death. The AP reports that Garagiola, who turned 90 in February, had been in bad health recently.
A native of St. Louis, Garagiola was childhood friends with fellow future major-league catcher Yogi Berra. After signing with the Cardinals at age 16, he made his debut in the big leagues in 1946.
That season, he appeared in his only World Series, which also featured the only World Series appearance by Boston Red Sox legend Ted Williams — and the Cardinals won. The following year, he had a famous argument with Jackie Robinson after Garagiola stepped on Robinson’s foot at home plate.
But Garagiola never lived up to his athletic potential and bounced around four teams during a nine-season baseball career in which he stood out more for his sense of humor than for his average skills on the diamond.
He parlayed that aspect of his personality into a 1960 book, “Baseball Is a Funny Game,” which established Garagiola as a popular media figure — the persona that brought him true fame throughout the rest of his life.
He was in the NBC booth for numerous big baseball games in the 1970s and 1980s.
At the same time, he gained a real following for his charming banter as a panelist on the network’s “Today” show, first from 1967 to 1973 and later from 1990 to 1992. He won a Peabody Award in 1973.
Garagiola also guest-hosted “The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson” and was the emcee for game shows like “Sale of the Century” and “To Tell the Truth.”
Although he was never inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame as a player, the Hall honored him for his broadcasting work in 1991. Then, in 2004, he was inducted into the hall of fame for the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association.
Among his many survivors are eight grandchildren and sons who followed him into his businesses: Joe Jr. was the general manager of the Diamondbacks and is an executive with Major League Baseball, and Steve has been a reporter and anchor in Detroit.
God I'll miss Joe Garagiola. — Matt Lauer (@MLauer) March 23, 2016
Was part of the soul of our show, and told me stories that made me laugh till I cried.
Hall of fame person.
God I'll miss Joe Garagiola.
— Matt Lauer (@MLauer) March 23, 2016