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Joe Garagiola, who played nine MLB seasons before a long broadcasting career, died Wednesday at the age of 90.
We are deeply saddened by the loss of baseball legend and former #Dbacks broadcaster Joe Garagiola. pic.twitter.com/ojaWGp05oC
— Arizona Diamondbacks (@Dbacks) March 23, 2016
"Joe was one of a kind and I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to get to know him and his family,” Diamondbacks managing general partner Ken Kendrick said in a statement. “His sense of humor certainly stood out to all of us, but perhaps more importantly, the mark he left in the community around him will carry on his legacy for generations to come.
Over his 58-year broadcasting career, Garagiola ingratiated himself to viewers and listeners thanks to his witty sense of humor. He received the 1991 Ford Frick Award from the Baseball Hall of Fame.
"We are deeply saddened by the loss of this amazing man who was not just beloved by those of us in his family, but to generations of baseball fans who he impacted during his eight decades in the game," Garagiola's family said in a statement. "Joe loved the game and passed that love onto family, his friends, his teammates, his listeners and everyone he came across as a player and broadcaster. His impact on the game, both on and off the field, will forever be felt."
A St. Louis native, Garagiola was childhood friends with Yankees Hall of Famer Yogi Berra. Garagiola, signed by the Cardinals as a 16-year-old before Berra signed with the Yankees, later said, “Not only was I not the best catcher in the major leagues, I wasn't even the best catcher on my street.”
As a rookie, Garagiola helped the Cardinals beat the Ted Williams-led Boston Red Sox in the 1946 World Series.
Garagiola did not have the playing career his best friend enjoyed. After spending nearly five seasons with the Cardinals, Garagiola was sent to Pittsburgh in 1951. Two years later, he moved on to the Cubs and finished his playing career in 1954 with the Giants.
Garagiola hit .257 with 42 home runs and 255 RBIs over his nine-year career. Because he was traded four times during his career, Garagiola once joked he was “either wanted or modeling uniforms, but didn’t know which.”
Garagiola went from the field to the booth in 1955, calling Cardinals games on KMOX radio from 1955-62. During that time, he also wrote a book entitled, “Baseball is a Funny Game,” published in 1960. But it was as a broadcaster that the congenial Garagiola became a household name.
Hired by NBC in 1961, Garagiola started calling games on television, bringing his knowledge of the game into the homes of millions with a unique waggishness that set him apart from broadcasters of the era.
Teamed with legendary broadcaster Vin Scully in 1983, the two became baseball’s broadcasting dream team and called three World Series, three All-Star Games and three National League Championship Series together. When NBC was on the verge of losing its baseball rights to CBS, Garagiola left the network following the 1988 World Series.
Serving as a guest commentator over the next decade, Garagiola joined the Arizona Diamondbacks broadcast team in 1998 and was a part-time color commentator for the team until his retirement in 2013.
In addition to the 1991 Ford Frick Award, Garagiola was also given the 2014 Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award.
“You get a call from the Hall of Fame, especially the way I played, you wonder what they want,” Garagiola said then. “They certainly don’t want my bat, they don’t want my glove.”
Garagiola was more than just a baseball broadcaster, however. He had guest spots on “The Today Show” and “The Tonight Show,” called various parades and hosted several game shows — most notably “The Match Game” in the late 1970s. He also served as the co-host for the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show from 1994-2002.
Garagiola was a longtime advocate against the use of tobacco products after quitting cold turkey in the late 1950s. Though he had a brain tumor removed in 2009, he never lost his witty charm.
Garagiola was devoted to his wife of more than 60 years, Audrie, whom he maintained was the “best catch” he ever made. The couple had three children. Joe Jr. is the senior vice president of standards and on-field operations for Major League Baseball and former general manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Steve and Gina Garagiola both followed their father’s footsteps into broadcasting.