Garagiola possessed the gift of gab and was famous for self-facing humor. He liked to call catcher's equipment (seen above) as; "the tools of ignorance." In reference to his marginal skills as a major league baseball player, he related this anecdote about growing up with future Hall-of-Famer Yogi Berra, "Not only was I not the best catcher in majors but I wasn't even the best catcher on my street."
In his early years in St. Louis, Garagiola said to Stan Musial (an elite among the best hitters in baseball history), "I had a great day today. I woke up to a beautiful morning, made love to my wife and ate a great breakfast. On my way to the park, I made every traffic light. Then I got two hits including a homer and...we won. Stan, did you ever have a day like that?" Musial said, "I have a day like that...every day."
Garagiola retired from baseball after the 1954 season. He then used his outward personality and glib humor to land a career in broadcasting. I best remember him as an analyst on NBC's baseball game of the week. But he reached champion status and national prominence when he became a regular on TV's, "THE TODAY SHOW." Beyond that he appeared on several other shows either as a host or a guest...as well as being a celebrity panelist on game shows.
Behind the scenes, Joe Garagiola's true champion caliber was developed as an anti-chewing tobacco advocate. Joe had been a user until the mid-1950's. He realized the health risks and quit cold turkey. When few people were stepping forward, Garagiola organized some major leaguers who had suffered the effects of this addiction. Then voluntarily, each year, they visited major league spring training facilities, (as early the late-1950's).
|BEFORE THE HARMFUL EFFECTS OF THIS CANCER-CAUSING POISON WAS WELL-KNOWN, ADS LIKE THIS (1955) WERE USED TO SELL INDIVIDUALS ON IT CALMING EFFECTS.|
Garagiola used his personality and humor to get his foot in the door. A big point of his "scared straight" type lectures was to say, "If you have lung cancer, (from conventional smoking), you die of lung cancer. But with oral cancer (from smokeless tobacco), you die one body part at a time...they operate on your neck, your jaw, your throat etc."
In my pre-pubescence, I recall so many baseball cards (1950's and 60's), where the players like; Fox (above), Bill Tuttle and Rocky Bridges proudly posed with a wad of this murderous crap in their cheek.
|LIKE MANY OF HIS PEERS, DON ZIMMER THOUGHT IT WAS A GOOD IDEA TO BE PHOTOGRAPHED WHILE USING IT.|
Somehow the dangerous message never got universally accepted. So while you might remember the premature death of Hall-of Famer Nellie Fox, others users made a far less powerful case. Nevertheless, the problem is ongoing and its continued use is still strong.
Despite the uphill battle, Garagiola fought well-up into his eighties. He took information from a George Vecsey article from May 29, 2010 that sighted the Center For Disease Control's finding that there's a link between oral cancer brought on by the use of smokeless tobacco, to pancreatic cancer and heart disease.
Later, Garagiola spoke against smokeless tobacco lobbyist at congressional hearings,. To paraphrase his rebuttal that chewing tobacco is a safe alternative to smoking he said; It's like jumping out a 25th floor window instead of from the 50th.
Unfortunately, the anti-smokeless tobacco culture is clouded. Kids chewing tobacco is shown in movies like 1993's, "SANDLOT." Plus, products like the shredded bubblegum, "BIG LEAGUE CHEW" can enable youngsters to emulate their ball playing heroes.
|IN 1980, FORMER MAJOR-LEAGUER AND AUTHOR JIM BOUTON INVENTED THIS SUGARY, KID-FRIENDLY GATEWAY TO CHEWING TOBACCO.|
Joe Garagiola's mission perseveres. Today, there are bans against smokeless tobacco in the majors and minor leagues. Still, users find ways to circumvent these rules. Hopefully, at the high school level enforcement can pave the way to change the culture in order to eliminate this highly addictive habit.
|THE STAGGERING TRUTH ABOUT SMOKELESS TOBACCO IS, IT'S NOT LIMITED TO BASEBALL, ETHNICITY, AGE OR EVEN GENDER.|
I hope Joe Garagiola wasn't just spitting into the wind. To me, he was a hero and truly a head of his time. But sometimes people need visual evidence.
|"SKOAL BROTHER!" JUST A PINCH BETWEEN WHERE YOUR CHEEK AND GUM WERE...THE "LUCKY" VICTIMS GET AWAY WITH JUST BEING DISFIGURED.|
I see far too much Skoal-like products in use, on my job. I can't possibly explain how disgusting it is to watch people use a Styrofoam cup or an empty beer bottle as a spittoon. While my sarcastic supervisors say; just look away. I remind them that they can not only look away but walk away as well. Even less sophisticated coworkers might call it the lesser of two evils when compared with getting inundated by secondhand smoke. The reality is, the whole practice shouldn't be permitted in public due to sanitary issues. However, in casinos where it could be used to distract the staff who are protecting high volumes of money.
This is not a simple thing that you can merely divert your eyes from...like rubberneckers going by a car wreck...your eye keeps stealing looks at the spittle. On a rare occasion, a drunk or careless jerk allows the overage (minute flecks) to fall onto the gaming table. That constant reminder is bad enough...but it's a million times worse and far too frequent that the brown slime drips down the side of the cup.
I pity the unsuspecting clean-up person who touches a Styrofoam spittoon. It's so nauseating that someone with an iron-clad stomach would want to wretch. AND...AND...AND, if you have the misfortune of touching anything even remotely damp when witnessing this apex of awfulness...it becomes a miracle that you don't projectile vomit on your abuser.
I mourn the death of Joe Garagiola. He was a champion of baseball, broadcasting and the common sense behind the anti-smokeless tobacco movement.
In his passing, I hope that Joe Garagiola will rest in peace and that the torch of his anti-smokeless tobacco campaign will gain momentum. Maybe in the near future, he can become like Vincent Van Gogh when the depth of his life-long struggle is fulfilled and appreciated. It's just a shame when the great ones are only immortalized when they are gone.