A legacy of self-effacing humor, dedication to others and a deep love for the game of baseball allowed Joe Garagiola to influence generations of announcers, players and fans, and many of them showed their appreciation Wednesday after learning of his passing at age 90.
The former Cardinals catcher became a household name for decades as a baseball announcer, a host for television shows beyond the game and an advocate for those needing help. His engaging style of storytelling was on a national stage on NBC's Game of the Week and he worked games for several clubs as well, helping define a broadcast approach that many current announcers still draw upon every day.
"Joe had a huge influence on me because he was the first person who made me realize baseball could be funny," said Rangers announcer Eric Nadel, the 2014 recipient of the National Baseball Hall of Fame's Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting excellence. "I read his book, Baseball is a Funny Game, when it first came out. I think I was in junior high or elementary school. I thought it was hilarious and I read it over and over again until the pages were falling out of the book. Then when he was doing the Game of the Week, it was so refreshing to hear somebody so funny broadcasting a baseball game."
Garagiola's influence went well beyond the game and the announcer's booth, as he advocated for former players by supporting the Baseball Assistance Team and against tobacco use in the game. Garagiola was honored for more than a half-century of work in the baseball booth with the Ford C. Frick Award in 1991 and for his overall commitment with the Buck O'Neil Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014.
"All of us at Major League Baseball are deeply saddened by the loss of Joe Garagiola," Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. "Joe began his illustrious career as a baseball player, but it wasn't long before everyone knew that this unique individual would combine his multi-talented media skills and wonderful personality to make a mark off the field as well."
Garagiola also hosted mainstream shows such as the Today Show and was a longtime announcer for the Westminster Kennel Dog Show, among many roles as emcee and TV personality.
But Garagiola's heart touched many in countless ways, and his efforts to help those in need both in and out of the game were tireless.
"With all of Joe's professional successes, it was behind the scenes where Joe has had an equally impressive impact," Commissioner Manfred's statement continued. "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."
Garagiola's renowned great sense of humor came naturally, something he and childhood friend Yogi Berra, who died last September, very much had in common. Lindsay Berra, Yogi's granddaughter, shared her perspective about that unique lifelong relationship on Twitter.
Garagiola's influence touched several teams, including the Cardinals, the Yankees, the Padres and most often during his later years the Arizona Diamondbacks, for whom his son Joe Jr. served as general manager. Joe Sr. broadcast games and served as an ambassador for the D-backs for many years preceding his death.
Thoughts and prayers to the family of former Cardinals catcher and one of St. Louis' own Joe Garagiola, Sr. pic.twitter.com/sa0tuvOAAC
Announcers who worked with him had a deep affection for the affable Garagiola, with longtime Padres announcer Ted Leitner tweeting, "Devastated at the passing of the great Joe Garagiola. Dear friend-my partner on #Padres telecasts on Cox TV years ago. Be with God Joe. RIP"
Garagiola touched many within each of the organizations he spent time with, as Royals vice president of communication Mike Swanson shared. Swanson worked with Garagiola when he was in a similar position with the D-backs from 1998-2006.
"Our world lost a great one with the passing of Joe," Swanson said. "Baseball has had many great ambassadors. But I defy you to find one better than Joe."
This is how I'll always remember Joe Garagiola. Making us all laugh. One of the best storytellers ever! May he RIP. pic.twitter.com/g9jjLerFSP
For the pure depth of his influence, Garagiola is hard to top -- from baseball broadcasts to morning TV to dog shows, he brought a special brand of humor and a memorable smile to everything he did.
"Joe's love of the game was always on display, and his knowledge and insight is something that I truly admired," Commissioner Manfred said. "On behalf of Major League Baseball, I extend my deepest condolences to Joe's wife Audrie, their son, MLB Senior Vice President long-time baseball executive Joe Jr., as well as son Steve, daughter Gina, and their entire family, as well as his countless friends and admirers throughout our game."
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter @JohnSchlegelMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.