PHOENIX (Reuters) - Former Major League catcher Joe Garagiola, who achieved more lasting fame as a sports announcer and television host after his retirement from baseball, died on Wednesday at the age of 90.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of this amazing man who was not just beloved by those of us in his family, but to generations of baseball fans who he impacted during his eight decades in the game,” his family said in a statement released by the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team.
Garagiola was born in 1926 and grew up in an Italian-American neighborhood in St. Louis across the street from childhood friend Yogi Berra, a fellow catcher who went on to a Hall of Fame career with the New York Yankees.
“Not only was I not the best catcher in the Major Leagues, I wasn’t even the best catcher on my street,” Garagiola once quipped.
Although often making light of his modest baseball accomplishments, Garagiola played nine seasons with four Major League teams and won a World Series championship with his hometown Cardinals in his rookie season in 1946.
Following his athletic career, he spent decades as a broadcaster, announcing baseball games on radio and television. He also did two stints as a co-host on NBC’s “Today” Show.
In May 1968, he was guest host of “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson the night that Beatles John Lennon and Paul McCartney appeared as guests.
He was honored with the Ford C. Frick broadcasters award by the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991. In 2014, he received the Hall of Fame’s Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award. His broadcast career with the Diamondbacks ended in 2013.
“God I’ll miss Joe Garagiola,’ current “Today” show co-host Matt Lauer tweeted. “Was part of the soul of our show, and told me stories that made me laugh till I cried. Hall of fame person.”
The Diamondbacks held a moment of silence to honor Garagiola at their spring training game against the San Francisco Giants on Wednesday afternoon.
The team said Garagiola, who died in Scottsdale, Arizona, was survived by his wife, Audrie, and three children, Steven, Gina and Joe Jr., who served as the general manager for the Diamondbacks from 1997 to 2005.
A funeral service will be held in St. Louis, the team said.
Reporting by David Schwartz in Phoenix; Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Curtis Skinner; Editing by G Crosse and Peter Cooney