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Famed broadcaster Joe Garagiola dies at age 90

PHOENIX — Joe Garagiola, who turned a modest major-league catching career into a 57-year run as a popular broadcaster in the sports world and beyond, died Wednesday. He was 90.

Mr. Garagiola had been in ill health in recent years.

The Diamondbacks announced his death before their exhibition game against the Giants, and murmurs of shock and sadness were heard at the park.

Growing up in the Hill neighborhood of St. Louis not far from future Hall of Famer Yogi Berra, Mr. Garagiola hit .257 during nine years in the majors. His highlight came early, getting a four-hit game in the 1946 World Series as a 20-year-old rookie and helping his hometown Cardinals win the championship.

"Not only was I not the best catcher in the major leagues, I wasn't even the best catcher on my street," Mr. Garagiola once remarked, referring to Berra.

But it was after he stopped playing that his fortunes took off. He thrived as a glib baseball broadcaster and fixture on NBC's Today show, leading to a nearly 30-year association with the network.

Mr. Garagiola won baseball's Ford C. Frick Award for excellence in broadcasting in 1991. He worked well into his 80s, serving as a part-time analyst for Diamondbacks telecasts until he announced his retirement in February 2013.

"He had a genuine impact on the craft. He was among the first to bring a humorous, storytelling style to the booth," NBC announcer Bob Costas said.

Mr. Garagiola's son, Joe Jr., is a former Diamondbacks general manager and a current executive with Major League Baseball.

"We are deeply saddened by the loss of this amazing man," his family said in a statement, "who was not just beloved to 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."

Commissioner Rob Manfred said "all of us at Major League Baseball are deeply saddened by the loss of Joe Garagiola. Joe began his illustrious career as a baseball player, but it wasn't long before everyone knew that this unique individual would combine his multitalented media skills and wonderful personality to make a mark off the field as well."

Manfred also praised Mr. Garagiola for being a leader in baseball's fight against smokeless tobacco.

The Cardinals signed Mr. Garagiola after rejecting Berra at a 1943 tryout. The two remained lifelong friends, with Berra often the good-natured subject of Mr. Garagiola's wit. Berra died Sept. 15.

When both men entered retirement communities a few years ago, Mr. Garagiola recalled a phone conversation with Berra. "I said, 'How's it going, Yog?' " Mr. Garagiola said, "and he said, 'It's all right, but geez, they've got a lot of old people here.' "

Mr. Garagiola broke into broadcasting in 1955 as a radio and TV analyst for St. Louis. He spent 27 years at NBC and was paired with Tony Kubek as the lead broadcast team from 1976-82, then with Vin Scully from 1984-88. He was 62 when he left on Nov. 1, 1988, when his contract expired. He broadcast Angels home games on TV in 1990.

Mr. Garagiola also was a co-host of the Today show from 1969-73 and again from 1990-92. His work as a commentator for the Westminster dog show helped inspire Fred Willard's daffy character, Buck Laughlin, in the mockumentary Best in Show.

Famed broadcaster Joe Garagiola dies at age 90 03/23/16 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 23, 2016 10:28pm]
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