By Owen Phelps, Ph.D.America’s Wealthiest Man
Posted June 2007
Joe Garagiola has Americana written all over him. After all, he’s made his mark in two huge all-American arenas — television and baseball.
Joe, a native of St. Louis who grew up on the same block as Yogi Berra, enjoyed a great career as a catcher for his home-town St. Louis Cardinals, who signed him at 16. He was a Cardinal regular when that team won the 1946 World Series, and later played for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago Cubs and New York Giants.
When his career ended in 1954, he switched to television — broadcasting for the Cardinals and the Yankees before making a huge leap to co-host of the “Today Show” on NBC.
Along the way he collected a TV Peabody Award in 1973 and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991 as a broadcaster. In 2007 he’s still working as an analyst on some Arizona Diamondbacks’ broadcasts.
Which of these distinctions is his favorite thing to talk about?
None of them.
When I met Joe several years ago to take him to O’Hare Airport the morning after he was presented with the Gabriel Award for Personal Achievement by Unda/USA, a group of religious communicators, he wanted to talk about two things very close to his heart.
- His active opposition to smokeless, or chewing, tobacco (he calls it “spit tobacco”) — a deeply rooted tradition in baseball that he warns is dangerous for everyone, but especially youngsters who are inclined to imitate pro players who use it. He serves as national chairman of Oral Health America's National Spit Tobacco Education Program (NSTEP).
The baseball team’s web site says of him: “Garagiola has been extremely active in the community and was honored as the 1998 recipient of the Children's MVP Award presented by the Jim Eisenreich Foundation. The award goes to a former player who has made significant contributions to children's causes. He works tirelessly for the Baseball Assistance Team, and is very visible at major league spring training camps, educating players on the evils of spit tobacco.
- His devotion to helping children at St. Peter’s Indian Mission School on the Pima Indian Reservation in Arizona. Garagiola explains that diabetes, obesity, sexual molestation and alcoholism are the gravest problems facing those who live on the reservation.
The Diamondbacks’ web site reports: “Garagiola was honored in November of 2001 the Arizona Chamber of Commerce for his work in the community, which includes his efforts on behalf of the St. Peter's Indian Mission in the Gila River Indian Community. Nicknamed "Awesome Fox" by the staff of St. Peter's, the baseball field at St. Peter's School is named "Awesome Fox Field" in his honor.”
Garagiola is a man of faith who is not shy about the role it plays in his life. An active Catholic, he told a reporter for Catholic News Service in 2004 that he always carries a rosary in his pocket and says he prays “all day long.”
There are, he said, three levels of prayer: “Give me, help me and use me. Level three is where we want to be. That's when we say, ‘Use me,’” — because in relation to God people are just “conduits.”
Garagiola’s first prayer of the day is typical of his plain-spoken, down home approach to life: “When I wake up in the morning, I say, ‘I love you Jesus, I trust you, I know you have a job for me to do and don't let me screw it up.’”
Many he has helped will tell you his prayer gets answered.
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Garagiola is the author of several baseball books, including the newly released "Let's Just Play Ball," with the forward written by his lifelong friend, Yogi Berra.
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