March 23, 2016
St. Louisan Joe Garagiola dies at 90
Hall of Famer Red Schoendienst, on the other end of the telephone, paused and said, softly, “Oh, man, gee,” when told of the death of former Cardinals teammate Joe Garagiola at age 90. “He and I were about the only ones left from that 1946 World Series team,” Schoendienst said.
Now, it is Schoendienst, 93 and in good health, after the death of Garagiola in Phoenix on Wednesday afternoon. Garagiola had been in poor health for at least several months.
Schoendienst and Garagiola were teammates from 1946-1951 before Garagiola was traded to Pittsburgh, but Schoendienst recalled a morning in 1942 when Schoendienst, from Germantown, Ill., and two products of Elizabeth Avenue on the Hill, Garagiola and Yogi Berra, rode in a big chauffeured Lincoln belonging to Cardinals general manager Branch Rickey on the way to a tryout camp in Forest Park.
Schoendienst and Garagiola eventually were signed, Garagiola for $500 and Schoendienst for something less. Berra would go to the New York Yankees later on as Rickey, who went on to the Brooklyn Dodgers, failed to sign him.
Garagiola would go into the military for two years after hitting .293 at Class AAA Columbus in 1943, while Schoedienst came to the majors in 1945. The next year, they were together as world champions, with Garagiola enjoying a four-hit game in Game 4 of the Cardinals’ seven-game victory over the Boston Red Sox. Schoendienst was 23. Garagiola was three years younger at 20.
Never able to fully recover from a separated shoulder he suffered in 1947 — he was hitting .347 at the time — Garagiola would hit a modest .257 for a nine-year career in the majors. Berra, of course, went on to greater heights, at least in baseball. Garagiola would make his mark in broadcasting.
Garagiola once said, “Not only was I not the best catcher in the major leagues, I wasn’t even the best catcher on my street.”
Schoendienst recalled that Garagiola “really didn’t have a great (throwing arm), but he knew the game pretty well for a young guy.”
Besides the Cardinals, Garagiola played for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago Cubs and New York Giants, all National League teams, until he quit after the 1954 season. His best year was in 1951, spent between the Cardinals and Pittsburgh, when he hit 11 home runs.
He often spoke of that career in self-deprecating terms. But Garagiola was a far better player as a catcher-turned-broadcaster than current Milwaukee Brewers announcer Bob Uecker, who was a .200 career hitter.
Speaking in 1970, Garagiola said, “It’s not a record, but being traded four times (actually three) when there are only eight teams in the league tells you something. I thought I was modeling uniforms for the National League.”
It was that wit that helped Garagiola become a giant in the broadcast industry, where he spent 58 years after he was through playing at the tender age of 28.
But not only was he a television personality, he was a very entertaining after-dinner speaker, who rarely said no to anyone. He emceed several Post-Dispatch Scholar-Athlete dinners.
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