Best Sports Legend 2013 | Joe Garagiola | Sports & Recreation | Phoenix

We'd been hearing Joe Garagiola's gravelly voice our whole waking lives. It was always a comfort to hear him broadcasting baseball games for NBC and, since moving to the Valley, off-and-on with the Arizona Diamondbacks, with whom his son, Joe Jr., used to be an exec. Joe Sr. always was a wise and wisecracking presence. When he retired from broadcasting recently — to much fanfare by the Diamondbacks — we got a lump in our throats to think a presence from our sports-crazed youth no longer would be a mainstay.

Garagiola's 87 and we're . . . well, never mind — but his departure's a reminder of the cruel passing of time. Garagiola's a true sports legend, and not in the traditional sense for an ex-jock. He cracks that he wasn't a great catcher in the major leagues, that he wasn't even the greatest catcher on the block where he grew up in St. Louis — Yankees Hall of Famer Yogi Berra lived down the street. He was no Bob Uecker, mind you, but Garagiola hit only .255 lifetime, spending the bulk of his nine-year big-league career with his hometown Cardinals. He also played for the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Chicago Cubs, and, briefly, the old New York baseball Giants. As a rookie, he played in one World Series with the Cards, who prevailed over the Boston Red Sox and slugger Ted Williams. Joe became famous for his mouth, his monkeyshines, and his sense of humor.

He was a character, and not just as a sportscaster. He kept fellow panelists and his audience on The Today Show in stitches for eight years during two stints. He was an occasional guest host of the Johnny Carson show, including the only Tonight Show appearance of John Lennon and Paul McCartney while the Beatles still were together. A pal of Gerald Ford's, he watched election returns at the White House with the accidental president. His good humor and wit have carried him far. No question that his boyhood pal Yogi was the far better ballplayer, but Joe lasted longer in the public eye.

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