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Baseball and broadcast legend Joe Garagiola dies at 90

Joe Garagiola

Baseball and broadcasting legend and institution Joe Garagiola has passed away at the age of 90.

Childhood friends with the recently-departed Yogi Berra in St. Louis, Garagiola was in fact the much more highly sought-after prospect. He was signed by the hometown Cardinals in 1942 and made his big league debut in 1946. He would play nine seasons in the Major Leagues with the St. Louis Cardinals (1946-51), Pittsburgh Pirates (1951-53), Chicago Cubs (1953-54) and New York Giants (1954). He reached the World Series as a rookie in 1946 and went 6-for-19, including a four-hit, three-RBI performance in Game 4 vs. the Red Sox.

While he had a fine career -- he was a .257/.354/.385 hitter in a primarily backup capacity -- he we would become far better known through broadcasting, the vast majority of it with NBC. He spent six years alongside Vin Scully as the No. 1 broadcast team for NBC’s “Game of the Week” and called multiple All-Star Games and World Series. Beyond sports, he hosted the Today Show from 1967 through 1973 and again from 1990 through 1992. He was likewise a guest host on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson. In his later years he called Arizona Diamondbacks games -- the club for whom his son served as general manager -- last doing so in 2013.

Garagiola was the author of three top-selling books which consisted primarily of baseball anecdotes and which helped define his post-playing career as one of the game’s consummate storytellers: Baseball is a Funny Game (1960), It’s Anybody’s Ballgame (1980) and Just Play Ball (2007). He was the 2014 Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient and 1991 Ford C. Frick Award winner.

His family released the following statement this afternoon:
“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. 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.”

The Diamondbacks likewise released statements, first from owner Ken Kendrick:
“Joe was one-of-a-kind and I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to get to know him and his family. 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.”

D-backs President & CEO Derrick Hall said:
“Joe was so special to everyone at the D-backs and had an aura about him that you could feel the moment you met him. Those of us who were lucky enough to know him personally were profoundly aware that the lovable personality that fans saw on TV was only surpassed by who he was in person and the way he treated everyone around him.”

UPDATE: Major League Baseball has issued a statement on Garagiola. And here is a statement from NBC Sports’ Bob Costas:

Joe Garagiola led a truly extraordinary American life. From growing up on The Hill in St. Louis with Yogi Berra, to getting four hits in a World Series game for his hometown team in 1946, to becoming one of the most prominent baseball broadcasters and popular television personalities of his time, and too much more to list.

It’s not enough to merely say that Joe was a Hall of Fame baseball announcer, although he was. Beyond that, he had a genuine impact on the craft. He was among the first to bring a humorous, story-telling style to the booth. He didn’t fit any one category. He was a very good play-by-play man, but no matter his role, he was always both anecdotal and analytical.

But Joe’s profile went beyond baseball. With his engaging personality and easy way with people, he wound up as the long-time co-host of TODAY and a frequent guest host for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. He was versatile enough to also host game shows, the Rose and Orange Bowl parades, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and even the Westminster Dog Show.

I truly can’t think of anyone whose primary profession was sports broadcaster who did as many different things on a national basis; and was, at the peak of his career, any better known by sports fans and non-sports fans alike. He was also a passionate and warm-hearted man who it was my pleasure to know and call a friend.

Follow @craigcalcaterra