At 29, Joe Garagiola ended a big-league playing career and began a big-league broadcasting career, joining Harry Caray and Jack Buck on the Cardinals radio team. Caray had encouraged Garagiola to make the move, but eventually regretted doing so when the pair had a falling out.
Sixty years ago, KMOX in St. Louis became the exclusive flagship radio station of the Cardinals. The 50,000-watt CBS affiliate signed a deal to broadcast the team’s entire 1955 schedule, including spring training games. KMOX hadn’t broadcast a complete Cardinals schedule in 15 years.
Caray, Buck and Milo Hamilton had broadcast Cardinals games on a rival station, KXOK, in 1954. Caray and Buck were recruited to KMOX in 1955. Hamilton was let go. At the urging of Caray, Garagiola replaced Hamilton.
Recruited by Caray
“Harry didn’t get along with Milo any better than he got along with me at the time and we knew he wanted to get somebody else on the broadcasts with whom he was more friendly,” Buck said in his book “That’s a Winner.”
“The man he wanted _ and got _ was Joe Garagiola. He and Harry had become friends when Garagiola was playing with the Cardinals … Harry kept bending his ear about getting into broadcasting … Harry talked the brewery and advertising people into hiring Joe.”
In his book “Baseball is a Funny Game,” Garagiola said, “I made a real effort to become a talk-for-pay guy. Every day I agitated Harry Caray … about what a soft job he had. His answer was that if I could hit like I could talk I wouldn’t have any worries. The kidding got on the square when he kept encouraging me about a future in broadcasting. Harry was a big help to me as a broadcaster.”
Garagiola, a St. Louis native, was 20 when he made his big-league playing debut as a catcher with the 1946 Cardinals. He played in the World Series that year, hitting .316 with four RBI in five games against the Red Sox.
The Cardinals traded Garagiola to the Pirates in June 1951.
In 1954, Garagiola played in his final big-league season for the Cubs and Giants. In his book “Holy Cow,” Caray implied the Cardinals knew in 1954 that they wanted Garagiola for their 1955 broadcast team.
“The third spot on the team was being saved for Joe Garagiola … Once he was done playing, Joe was going to join up with me,” Caray said.
Garagiola spent the winter before the 1955 season “traveling the banquet circuit in his new role as sportscaster of the Cardinals games and goodwill ambassador for Anheuser-Busch.”
Odd man out
When it came time for spring training, Caray and Garagiola went to Florida to do the games. Buck was left behind in St. Louis.
“It was difficult for me because Joe became Harry’s right hand and I was the odd man out,” Buck said. “I was all set to go to spring training that year, 1955, and Joe bumped me out of the trip. He talked the brewery into sending him instead. He also became the full-time partner for Harry on the road, leaving me at home in the studio to do the commercials and scoring updates of other games.”
Garagiola’s wife, Audrie, became the Busch Stadium organist. She was as popular as her husband. According to The Sporting News, the “ballpark switchboard received several calls complimenting” the musical skill of the organist, while Joe “has made a favorable impression … as a broadcaster of Redbird games.”
Said Buck: “Nobody at the time knew how well Garagiola was going to do in the broadcast booth … He walked right in and started doing it. It helped that Harry liked him, but I give Joe a lot of credit for working at it.”
Caray, Garagiola and Buck formed the Cardinals’ broadcast team from 1955-59. In 1960, Buck departed, leaving Caray and Garagiola as a duo.
“Caray was helping make Garagiola the success he became, but they probably were too much alike to remain partners for long,” Buck said in his 1997 book. “Harry resented the fact that Joe became a national celebrity and never gave Harry credit … The relationship between Harry and Joe fell apart to the point that they’re still not friends today.”
Buck rejoined Caray and Garagiola in 1961 and they remained Cardinals broadcast partners in 1962. Garagiola departed to join NBC on its national broadcasts in 1963 and was replaced in the Cardinals booth by Jerry Gross.
The Ford C. Frick Award, presented annually since 1978 to a broadcaster for major contributions to baseball, has been awarded to Buck (1987), Caray (1989), Garagiola (1991) and Hamilton (1992).
Previously: How Harry Caray survived near-fatal car accident