Sunday, May 11, 2008

Baseball is a Funny Game (book)

By Joe Garagiola

If people know Joe Garagiola at al these days, it was for his stint as a sports announcer and Today Show host.  Most people might recall he was a ballplayer (he talked about it often enough) and Arizona Diamondbacks fans might note him as the father of Joe Garagiola, Jr., the team's general manager.

Most people don't realize he was a best selling author, too.

Garagiola was a journeyman ballplayer.  He was lucky enough to play for one World Series champs, but played most of his career on mediocre to terrible teams. He could catch and hit well enough, but was never a star and eventually was out of the game at the fairly young age of 28.

But Garagiola was a storyteller.  He grew up in the same neighborhood as Yogi Berra and had dozens of stories about Yogi from when they were kids. He could tell a funny story with the best of them, and, after retiring, he wrote Baseball is a Funny Game.*

Baseball is a Funny Game Two things made it work.  First was Garagiola's sense of humor. It's filled with funny stories about players, umpires, owners, and managers.

But the second was Garagiola's inside look at the game. He talked about the people in the clubhouse -- what the trainers did, the job of the clubhouse boy -- and in the front office, and what their jobs were. The book is filled with insights even today, like his example of front office interference, where he explains how a general manager may ask his field manager to play a player to make him easier to trade.

There was also a great chapter entitled "Between the Foul Lines," which describes what it feels to be a major league player.

The book was a smash.  It stayed on the New York Times Best seller list for 13 weeks and remained in print for years.  It made Garagiola into a major name and talk show guest (He substituted for Johnny Carson, and had the Beatles on the show that night). And he parlayed a fair to middling baseball career into a household word on TV.

Not too bad for a poor boy from St. Louis.

*Some sources say the book was ghostwritten. While I'm sure he had an editor's help (he was not a great student, preferring baseball to class), I find it hard to believe the book was ghostwritten out of the whole cloth. It's unlikely in the extreme that a publisher would assign a ghostwriter to an unknown ballplayer. And Garagiola continued to repeat the stories in the book through his sportscasting years (as his critics often pointed out). At most, the ghostwriter took down what Garagiola was saying and made sure it was in professional form, but the voice is definitely Joe's.

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