Thursday, March 24, 2016
MY TIME WITH JOE GARAGIOLA
I didn't know Joe Garagiola well. In fact, I really didn't know him at all. But when I spoke to him the one and only time by telephone, it was like I had talked to him all my life. He reminded me of comfort. He reminded me of my grandfather. A man full of knowledge, a lover of the game of baseball. He had a sharp mind, and he had a million stories he was itching to tell, but I didn't have that much time. Trust me, if I did, if I could, I would have listened for hours and it would have been worth it.
In reality, the moment was brief. 34 minutes. I called him at his house and I just assumed some assistant would pick up, put me on hold until Mr. Garagiola would come to the phone. But it wasn't like that at all. Joe picked the phone up, and spoke with that authoritative voice that I remember hearing for decades in the broadcast booth. He knew what he was talking about, and it was probably the most comforting conversation I've ever had with a stranger in my entire life.
I collected cards of Mr. Garagiola way before I ever spoke to him. Even though he only played 9 years in the major leagues, years that I wasn't alive to see, it didn't matter. His broadcast years sucked me in and I was an instant fan like so many others.
"I would love to get you to sign one of your baseball cards for me. I have quite a few", I said nervously. The reality was I hated asking for autographs. I always felt like I was being a pain in the rear. But he didn't make it weird at all.
"Robert, if you want to send it to me, I'd be happy to sign for you", he said. It was genuine. He liked me, at least that's what I thought. I felt like I was home as a kid with my baseball cards spread across the carpet in front of my fireplace during some family holiday or something. It was the smell of home cooking and baseball and all that's good in the world. I felt like a kid, and Joe made the whole chat unforgettable. We spoke of Yogi Berra, Bill Tuttle, President Gerald Ford, playing for the Pirates and on and on and on. I listened to everything he said... a legend was speaking. He had my full attention.
I never dropped my Garagiola baseball card in the mail, you know... and now it's too late. Mr. Garagiola died yesterday at 90 years old. He was for me, one of the best broadcasters of my lifetime and someone who I admired very much. Not only for his Italian heritage, but for his love of the game, and the passion he presented when he was in that broadcast booth. Listening to him chat by phone, now almost 20 years ago made me understand why men like Joe love baseball.
He knew everyone in the game and everyone knew him. It was about hard work, but it was also about respect for him. It was about family as well. Joe was a family guy... in baseball and in life. I knew that from the moment we spoke. It was obvious. He made me feel at home. He made me realize just how important being passionate about something really was. Joe loved baseball. Joe loved talking about it and making me feel like I was there with him. It was absolutely amazing.
When I heard Mr. Garagiola passed away, I was heartbroken. I felt for his family, and I felt for Major League Baseball. No, Joe wasn't a hall of fame player, but he was a Hall of Fame broadcaster, but I gotta tell you something, even if he wasn't... he was to me.
Mr. Garagiola let me into his baseball world for 34 minutes in one phone conversation with him almost 20 years ago. From that day forward, I became an instant fan of Joe Garagiola.
Rest in Peace my friend. That's for an unforgettable chat.
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