Noted author, humorist, T.V. personality, baseball player and humanitarian, Joe Garagiola, passed away on Wednesday at the age of 90. His love of the game and its players was an extension of his love for all people, which drove him to take up causes that were designed to help everyone reach their full potential.
From his stance again spit tobacco and his desire to help those in the baseball family who were down on their luck, to his tireless work among the Pima Indians, Joe moved mountains with a smile, a joke and his relentless belief in the value of all people.
A product of “The Hill” in his beloved St. Louis, Joe was born across the street from another of baseball’s most enduring and beloved personalities, Yogi Berra. Their lifelong friendship was shared with the world through Joe’s comical retelling of “Yogi-stories” and in many of Joe’s best-selling books.
Garagiola will always hold a special place in the heart of all PBATS members, as he was an early advocate for the eradication of chewing tobacco in Major League Baseball. Well before most cared about the harmful effects of tobacco, Garagiola was traveling across the country to educate anyone that would listen, with the phrase “tobacco is tobacco.” And he would always say, he was not anti-tobacco, he was simply anti-Cancer.
“Joe Garagiola holds a special place in PBATS history. He supported everything that PBATS as a society set out to accomplish — specifically our fight against spit tobacco,” PBATS President Mark O’Neal said. “Joe worked day and night to help educate players about the dangers associated with spit tobacco use. He even traveled to each Major League camp during spring training to educate players about oral cancer and worked to help them quit. His tireless efforts, his unwavering support and his love for the game of baseball will be forever remembered by PBATS members.”
The highlight of Joe’s career on the field included winning the World Series with the Cardinals in 1946. In Game 4 of the 1946 World Series, Joe went 4-5 with 3 RBIs – one of his proudest moments in the game. He played his final game in 1954, ending his nine-year career. After his playing career ended, his impact on the game became greater.
“With all of Joe’s professional successes, it was behind the scenes where Joe has had an equally impressive impact,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. “For his work with kids, Joe was named the 1998 recipient of the Children’s MVP Award presented by the Jim Eisenreich Foundation. He served baseball as a leader in the fight against smokeless tobacco, working with NSTEP – the National Spit Tobacco Education Program – and traveling to each Major League camp during Spring Training to educate players about the dangers of tobacco and oral cancer. He was also a tireless supporter and longtime champion for the Baseball Assistance Team, which helps members of the baseball family who are in need.”
Although nationally recognized throughout the game of baseball, Garagiola had time for every single person. He had personal relationships with PBATS and their members, who he often called the backbone of the game.
Jeff Cooper, former athletic trainer for the Philadelphia Phillies said, “Joe Garagiola cared more about the players than anyone I knew. Before anyone in baseball was working to educate the public about the issue of spit tobacco, Joe was taking a stand and fighting to make people aware of this issue. He was an innovative leader in the game of baseball, and his passion and drive to improve the game was all about the players. He supported them, he truly cared about their lives on and off the field and he worked tirelessly to make the game a better place for everyone involved.”
At the end of each of virtually all of Garagiola’s speeches, he would ask the audience to wrap their arms around someone in need and give them a little warmth an encouragement. The world today is left with a little less comfort and warmth with his passing.
Garagiola is survived by his beloved wife, Audrie; a daughter, Gina; sons, Steve and Joe Jr.; and eight grandchildren.