PHOENIX – This could be the perfect World Series for Joe Garagiola. The opener ended with a home run. The second game featured 13 singles on the winning team. Powerball and smallball and everything in between, perfect for a raconteur with a ballplayer’s heart and a showman’s style.
But mostly, Garagiola loved this World Series because his favorite team, the Arizona Diamondbacks, pulled even with the Texas Rangers on Saturday. And in Game 3 Monday at Chase Field, it’s another family affair for the Garagiolas: Joe’s son, Joe Jr. He was the general manager of the first Arizona title team in 2001 and now his grandson Chris is the club broadcaster.
The group, slashing, stealing, morally sacrificed, cheered Garagiola, who died in 2016 at the age of 90. Garagiola, with his bald, bearded comic-strip name, was one of baseball’s old characters, a legacy. Relevant until the end.
“They do all the things he likes to talk about — taking the extra base, trail runners moving up, hitting the runner behind and hitting,” said Joe Garagiola Jr., now the Diamondbacks’ senior director of special projects.
We’d be watching games and something would happen and someone would come up with a stat that showed the sacrifice was a failed tactic. And that really gets it going.
If Joe Sr. had been like his son, he would have watched Chris on television from four to six innings with the sound off and the radio on. And he’ll certainly be there for games in Arizona, sitting behind home plate with his scouting buddies, as much as he can get to his old spot.
Garagiola’s career peaked in 1946. He played for seven more seasons as he helped his hometown Cardinals beat the Red Sox in the World Series with four hits in Game 4, and while stardom eluded him on the diamond, he found himself behind the microphone as a cheerful, versatile NBC personality — not a comedian, but Someone who knows a good line.
“Not only was I not the best player in the major leagues, but I wasn’t the best spectator in my own way,” Garagiola often says before referring to a childhood friend named Yogi Berra.
He retired to Arizona, where he remained active in philanthropy but never strayed far from his roots. When the Diamondbacks joined the majors as an expansion team in 1998, Garagiola was their part-time broadcaster. He was a living link to history for a new group of purples named for Snake.
“We went to the Fall League championship game in 2005,” said Chris, 31, who joined the Diamondbacks’ broadcast team last season. And it’s me, my father and my grandfather,” he said. “We walked in and sat down and about five minutes later someone comes up with Joe Garagiola’s card and says, ‘Hey, are you going to sign this card?’ And he does, and the guy says, ‘I’m going to carry this with me every day just in case I run into you one day.'” That was the kind of attraction he had.
For decades, Garagiola was everywhere, waking you up on the “Today” show, hooking you up on “The Tonight Show,” greeting you from the ballpark on Saturday afternoons. He met Pope John Paul II and interviewed John and Paul of the Beatles. He was friends with Charles M. Schulz, the creator of “Peanuts” and a frequent fan, and worked closely with President Gerald Ford during his 1976 campaign, narrowly losing to Jimmy Carter.
“That photo,” Chris said, referring to the selection-night twilight footage, “is when your bullpen blows up and you’re like, ‘This isn’t going to be a good night for us.’
In the year In 2001, at least, November’s heartache didn’t last. After the bullpen blew out Games 4 and 5 of the World Series in New York, the Diamondbacks famously rallied to win the final two games here. It remains the state’s only championship in baseball, NBA, NBA or NFL, and in the franchise’s fourth season, it set an MLB record for the fastest route to the crown.
In the year Garagiola Jr., who worked as in-house counsel for the Yankees in 1976, was instrumental in Arizona’s expansion team push. With a generous budget from original Diamondbacks owner Jerry Colangelo, Garagiola assembled a serious, veteran roster hungry for glory.
“These were guys who had a huge amount of individual success, but collectively they didn’t win the big one,” Garagiola Jr. said. “And secretly — because we haven’t really talked about it — I think they’ve all realized that they’re part of what’s really possible.”
In fact, in the 2001 World Series, one Arizona player, infielder Craig Counsell, had ever won a ring; Stars like Randy Johnson, Mark Grace, Luis Gonzalez and Matt Williams have always failed. Now they are icons where their mascot versions race on the warning track at every game – like the sausages in Milwaukee or the presidents in Washington. But success was short-lived.
In the year The Diamondbacks fell to 51-111 in 2004, the worst record in baseball, and the following summer Joe Jr. left for a senior vice president job with MLB. Chris, on the other hand, is leaving the Diamondbacks as his favorite team in favor of their expansion cousins, who are still trying to make a player known as the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
His grandfather helped. Once Chris gave him a deluxe bat for his birthday – “a drop 5, red stealth, two-tone, matte finish, like the Rolls Royce of bats for a middle schooler,” Chris said. But more importantly, he set an example with his passion for the game.
Chris tried to pitch at Trinity University in San Antonio, but his fastball was lacking and so was his drive. Inspired by Joe Sr.’s love of the craft, he launched a career in broadcasting and took every job he could find, on and off campus.
He interned at the MLB Network, called games for the Melbourne Aces in Australia, and studied the work of Masters Marty Brennaman during his internship with the Cincinnati Reds. Brennaman, who worked with Joe Sr. in the 1975 World Series, liked Chris and let him sit in the booth during the broadcast.
“The passion was one of the things that sold me on it,” Brennaman said. “This is a guy who was born and raised in the game of baseball, and without saying a word, he’s made it clear to me that he wants to do it and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen.
“Especially with a young person with a famous last name, there’s an assumption in some cases, ‘Maybe this will give me an advantage over someone who hasn’t grown up in the business.’ And I never understood that kind of feeling. He was a very humble young man.”
Shortly after Chris was tired of the minors, he took a job in media relations for the Double-A Pensacola (Fla.) Blue Wahoos, because the opportunity came to call games. There, he learned from Tommy Thrill — who has since replaced Brennaman with the Reds — and earned his call-up to the majors before last season.
“When he got the job with the Diamondbacks, people were like, ‘What do you think?’ They are,” Garagiola Jr. said. “And if this had happened three years ago or four years ago: maybe not officially – it would have taken this kind of stunt.” But now it is ready. He’s put the work in. He’s done hundreds of games himself and he’s ready to take this step.
Lately Chris found himself watching lots and lots of Joe Sr.’s NBC telecasts, many with Vin Scully, all before he was born. In Arizona, he works in a press box wing named for his grandfather, whose fame may never be matched but whose art lives on through the generations.
“In the NLCS, Christian Walker was struggling a little bit, and I was like, ‘If grandpa’s doing the broadcast, he might say, ‘There’s termites in the bat rack,’ or something like that,” Chris said. “That was his kind of stuff — funny, but Non-committal, clever without being clever.
I think it was – it was great, man. He was very good. “
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(Chris Garagiola Top Photo: Tyler Kepner / The Athletic)