Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Decency and Honor, Behind the Plate

"Not only was I not the best catcher in the Major Leagues, I wasn't even the best catcher on my street!" Joe Garagiola, on growing up across the street in St. Louis from Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra.

Noting the passing of baseball player, commentator and all around nice guy Joe Garagiola.

 For all intents and purposes, Joe Garagiola is a minor figure in Major League Baseball. He played in fewer than seven hundred games over nine seasons. It is an amazing achievement for an individual to play at all in the majors, significantly impressive that they last nine seasons and, yet, Mr. Garagiola was perhaps a journeyman player, a decent hitter and passed from the playing field a couple of summers shy of thirty years old.

He worked on radio and TV, calling games or acting as the color commentator. His quick wit and self-deprecating sense of humor made the game the thing, not incessant patter from the booth. Cheerful, positive - he was at the ballpark with his buddy Tony Kubek, the sun was out and actual baseball was happening on a gorgeous field in front of him.

I remember another Joe, the guy who stumped for President Gerald Ford during the 1980 campaign. Republicans, in the wake of the contentious Nixon years, were out of favor with the electorate. The Ford-for-President aircraft landed at the Rochester/Monroe County Airport for a quick appearance. How quick? The candidate and his assembled staff stood outside, playing to a supportive, if modest, throng. Joe whipped up the crowd standing on the tarmac (it was 1980, after all) with his usual broad smile and positive energy. Ford made a speech and they got back aboard, bound for more fertile pastures.
In the end, it was a vain hope.

This picture says a lot - the nice guy who gave it his all, and the experienced politician lighting his pipe, prepared to accept the judgment of a country ready to move on. Both were decent, honest men who may not have been the best on their block, but they were good enough. 

Joe was good enough to stand on the field of dreams for nearly a decade, and to describe what it all meant to America until he was eighty-seven years old.

Yours was a life well lived, sir.  

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