Joe Garagiola, the catcher-turned-Hall of Fame announcer and sometime substitute host for Johnny Carson, has died in Arizona. He was 90. His death was announced by the Arizona Diamondbacks, the team his son, Joe Jr., formerly served as general manager.
Garagiola played nine seasons for four teams including the New York Giants,. He took undeserved pride in being a mediocre catcher and excellent benchwarmer (when in fact he batted .316 in the World Series of 1946, his first year in the majors). But he found fame as an announcer for NBC Sports television and radio over nearly three decades beginning in 1961, trading the roles of play-by-play announcer and color commentator with Kurt Gowdy and, later, Tony Kubek. He also teamed with Vin Scully for three World Series in the 1980s. A true boy of summer, his living room-friendly voice, professional experience and know-how and avuncular attitude fit perfectly with the idea of America’s favorite pastime. It was no surprise that one of his closest friends would be fellow catcher and homespun philosopher Yogi Berra.
Garagiola also was a popular presence as a panelist on NBC’s Today show and as host or panelist on various game shows, including He Said, She Said, To Tell the Truth and The Match Game. One of his fans was Carson, who had Garagiola serve as guest host several times on The Tonight Show. Garagiola had the distinction of presiding over the program when John Lennon and Paul McCartney stopped by in May 1968, marking the only appearance by any of the Beatles on the program.
Garagiola, whose forays into politics peaked with his support for President Ford in 1976, was inducted into the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame in 2004 and was the 2014 recipient of Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions to pro baseball.