He Fell out of the Spalding Guide; Garagiola Dies at 90

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The voice was  distinctive when you had to have a distinctive voice to get a job broadcasting baseball.   His playing  success was modest but his sense of humor was up there with the best.  He wrote one of the earliest books about the lighter side of baseball, called “Baseball is a Funny Game.”  These thoughts flashed through my mind when I heard of the passing of Joe Garagiola, at 90.  He, Harry caray and Jack Buck were the original 3 great announcers from St. Louis.  After 8 years behind the Cardinals’ microphone he broadcast for the Yankees from 1965-67 following the firing of Mel Allen. From there NBC was his home for more than 20 years.

As a rookie in 1946 he had performed in the World Series as the Cardinals beat the Red Sox in 7 games.   By 1954, his playing days done, he wasn’t on the New York Giants’ roster as they faced the Indians in the World Series.  He was looking out the clubhouse window at the Polo Grounds when Willie Mays made his incredible catch in game 1 of that World Series. He always figured he had the best seat in the house as Mays raced toward the clubhouse.     8 years later Garagiola  would be broadcasting his first of 4 consecutive World Series on radio, the Yankees-Giants duel of 1962. In that series he did color commentator as George Kell did play-by-play.  Good as Kell was, it was his only World Series.  Garagiola called game 1 in 1963 as Sandy Koufax struck out 15 Yankees, setting a World Series mark Bob Gibson would break 5 years later.  In 1964 Garagiola was one of several commentators as the Yankees lost the World Series to the Cardinals in 7.  In 1965 he and Byrum saam described the Dodgers’ 7-game defeat of the Twins.   He would handle many more World Series games on NBC-TV but his last radio World Series was arguably the greatest fall classic ever played, the 1975 Reds vs Red Sox series. A year later CBS radio claimed the broadcast rights it would hold for more than two decades, ending Garagiola’s chances to call the fall classic on radio. On TV he was partnered with Vin Scully for two of the sport’s most iconic moments.  The two were broadcasting game 6 of the 1986 World Series when Mookie Wilson’s grounder went by Bill Buckner, capping as great a single-inning comeback as a AWorld Series is liable to see.  Two years later, the same two announcers called Kirk Gibson’s incredible 9th-inning home run against Dennis Eckersley.

While his boyhood neighbor Yogi Berra is famous for baseball sayings, Garagiola had a few memorable ones of his own.  For a man of great talent he’d say “He looks like he fell out of the Spalding guide.”  For a hanging curve he’d say “If he picked up a room service phone he’d order that pitch.” If a game featured a lot of hitting he’d say “The bat rack is quivering, the termites are awake.” My favorite one of all was one he recorded on a tape for my broadcast partner and myself.  After the 1991 season we sent questionaires and blank tapes to baseball players and broadcasters of renown.  One was answered by Garagiola.  On getting older he said, “I feel like I’m two runs ahead when I get up in the morning.”  And he said that 25 years ago. He was able to joke about playing on the 1952 Pirates, one of baseball’s worst teams (until the 1962 Mets came along.)  He said “We had a tremendous rally going, there were two men out and a runner on first.” He said of his hitting ability “I used to look down to the third base coach and get a 3-and-2 take sign.”    That was Joe Garagiola.

Yankees’ second baseman Starlin Castro is 26 today. He was acquired after last season from the Chicago Cubs to fill a gaping hole left years ago when Robinson Cano was allowed to go to Seattle. His .281 lifetime average is about 100 points higher than their second basemen since Cano’s departure. He was an All-Star in the senior circuit 3 times, the most recent  in 2014.

Bruce Hurst is 58 today.  The Red Sox took him in round 1 of the 1976 draft, the year after their World Series loss to the Reds.  A decade later he would be a starting pitcher for them as they faced the Mets in their next World series appearance. He won games 1 and 5 of that series. Had games 6 and 7 not happened he would have been MVP of the Series.    His one All-Star selection came a year later.  Following another playoff failure by the Sox in 1988 he joined the Padres, then the Rockies and Rangers as his career wound down.

Jesus Alou is 74 today.       Of him, Fritz Peterson syas:

Happy Birthday to Jesus Alou, the one who didn’t play for the Yankees. His brothers, Felipe and Matty, were my teammates. Jesus played for the Giants (with his two brothers) from 1963 to 1968, the Astros from 1969 to 1972, the A’s in 1973 and 1974, the Mets in 1975, and the Astros again in 1978 and 1979. I remember his Yankee Stadium debut on August 10, 1973 when he entered the game in the eighth inning as a pinch hitter for Ted Kubiak; Sparky Lyle got him to hit into an inning-ending double play. Matty was the first baseman who caught the ball in advance of his brother reaching the base; Felipe watched it happen from Rightfield.”

Hall of Famer George Sisler was born this day in 1893 and died in 1973, two days past his 80th birthday. He did his best work with the St. Louis Browns between 1915 and 1927, then played with the Washington Senators and Boston Braves in his final 3 years. When playing managers were still the norm he handled both chores in St. Louis between 1924 and 1926. He put up 2812 hits in a relatively short career, considering one full season (1923) was lost to injury. He won two batting titles and led the league in steals 4 times-the last in 1927. He began as a pitcher for the Browns, managed by Branch Rickey (Sisler’s former coach at University of Michigan.) His record of 257 hits in a season stood for 84 years until Ichiro broke it. After baseball he was a scout with the Cardinals, Dodgers and Pirates-by  whom he was still employed at the time of his death.

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