The jokes in Garagiola’s best-seller, Baseball Is a Funny Game (1960), helped foster his image as a marginal player. In truth, his career was no joke. Signed by the Cardinals Branch Rickey for $500 off the sandlots of St. Louis, Garagiola (Yogi Berra‘s boyhood pal) began his pro baseball career at 16. After two years in the minors and two in the military, the catcher reported to the Cardinals in 1946. In the opening game of the ’46 playoffs, Garagiola’s three hits and two RBI helped the Cardinals to a 4-2 win over the Dodgers. In the World Series with Boston, he collected six hits, including four in Game Four.
In mid-June of 1950, Garagiola was hitting .347. During a game against the Dodgers, he laid down a bunt and raced to first. Brooklyn second baseman Jackie Robinson went to take the throw, but had trouble finding the bag with his foot. Garagiola, trying to avoid colliding with Robinson, broke stride and fell. He suffered a shoulder separation, caught only 30 games that year, and was traded to the Pirates in 1951. He played in a career-high 118 games and hit .273 for the last-place Pirates in 1952.
His broadcasting career began in 1955 with the Cardinals. In 1961 he began working for NBC’s “Major League Baseball,” where he continued until the end of 1988. In 1965 he replaced Mel Allen on Yankee broadcasts, then in 1969 moved to hosting NBC’s daily “Today Show” until 1973. He remains a national celebrity known for one-liners, reminiscences of his days as a Pirate, and Yogi Berra anecdotes. His first book, Baseball Is a Funny Game, remains one of the best-selling baseball book ever.