Tuesday, October 2, 2012

He's the Other Half in Pair of Sweet Talkers

By Jim Murray

Los Angeles Times  Friday April 8, 1988

    When you talk of the great combinations in faseball, you tend to think of Ruth and Gehrig, Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance, Spahn-and-Sain-and-pray-for-rain, Koufax and Drysdale, Mantle and Maris.
    How about Scully and Garagiola? How about a keystone combination in the broadcast booth? A Murderers' Row at the microphone? What's more important to a pennant contender or a World Series, a Gold Glove — or a golden throat?
    Mays and Mantle were fun to watch. Garagiola and Scully are fun to hear.
    Vin Scully is a poet. Joe Garagiola was a catcher. Joe illustrates the difference in their approach with an anecdote about the time Vin Scully described a bunt as, "Dropping like a poached egg."
    Garagiola put in that the batter was able to poach that egg because the groundskeeper had made the ground soft and the grass high around home plate.
    The charm of Joe Garagiola is, he sees major league baseball as merely the billion-dollar extension of the game he used to play with Yogi Berra on the rock-strewn fields of The Hill in St. Louis as a kid.
    The game still has a lot of little boy in it for Joe. He sees the drama. He also sees the comedy.
    He has written a new book, "It's Anybody's Ball Game." Like Joe, it's irreverent but informative, cynical but sympathetic.
    Joe knows that baseball's hold on America is not all hits, runs and errors; it's flakes, head cases, practical jokers, humorists, the last circus.
    Who was it, Jacques Barzun, who said, "Who would understand America must first understand baseball"? Joe understands America. And Joe understands baseball.
    In his book, Joe lets you in on it.
    The Modern Ballplayer: "Now you find as many tailors at spring training as you do palm trees. Now they take special fitting instructions. Some want the pant leg to the ankle, some want it to the knee. Some like to wear heavy fleece-lined jackets to take infield practice, others wear cloth jackets, light jackets under their shirts — the wardrobe goes on and on. The locker of a major leaguer looks like he chose the right door on a game show."
    The Rabbit Ball: "Milwaukee pitching coach Chuck Hartenstein said, 'We don't have to buy new baseballs anymore, we just put 'em in a bag and let 'em multiply.' "
    Yogi Berra: "Yogi was already a star when he sat talking with teammate Charlie Keller in the Yankee clubhouse, and Yogi wondered if Keller remembered the first time they met. 'I sure do,' Keller said. 'I remember seeing you walk through that door in your Navy uniform.' Yogi nodded. 'I'll bet you didn't think I was a ballplayer.' At which point clubhouse man Pete Sheehy said, 'I didn't even think you were a sailor.' "
    Pitchers: "Ellis Clary once scouted a pitcher so bad that, he said, 'when he came in the game, the ground crew dragged the warning track.' "
    Scouts: "The two scouts, Russ Sehon of the Yankees and Carl Blando of the Royals, were scouting a high school pitching prospect when Blando told Sehon they didn't rely on the radar gun. 'There are truck drivers who can throw 90 mph but can't pitch,' Blando said. 'You got the names of those truck drivers?' Sehon asked."
    Religion in the Clubhouse: "Pat Kelly, a free-swinging outfielder with the Baltimore Orioles, a very friendly, sincere type, married a minister's daughter, and chapel was very important to him. In this particular game Kelly was batting with the bases loaded, and he swung at a pitch that could only have been called ball four and forced in a run. Instead, he struck out. The next day, as he was leaving chapel service, he ran into his manager. With typical Kelly enthusiasm, he said, 'Earl, I feel great. I've just left chapel and once again I've learned to walk with the Lord.' Earl Weaver just looked at him. 'Too bad you didn't learn to walk with the bases loaded,' he snapped."
    The Crowded Air: "We had six in the (broadcast) booth for the 1980 World Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and Kansas City Royals. Tony Kubek and I did play-by-play, Bryant Gumbel did the pregame show, Tom Seaver analyzed pitching strategy, former umpire Ron Luciano commented on controversial calls and Merle Harmon interviewed people in the stands. Three more guys and we could have played an Old-Timers' Game."
    Slump: "For Dave Winfield, the word (slump) doesn't even exist. He calls it a 'statistically acceptable variation.' Regardless of the statistics, Rocky Colavito was never in a slump. 'I'm not in a slump,' he'd say. 'I'm just not hitting.' "
    Size: "Another thing people like to argue about is the size of the players, especially what the little guy is capable of. Whitey Herzog has his own way of measuring: 'A player's never little if he can run.' "
    The Power of Negative Thinking: "Billy Martin once said, 'My luck is so bad if Mickey Mantle and I bought a cemetery, people would stop dying.' If Yogi were a partner, they'd strike oil the first shovelful of dirt."
    Baseball, Its Own Self (Sorry, Dan): "It's not High Mass, it's not a seminar — it's a game."
    White-Collar Crime: "Roger Craig, a former pitcher and coach and now manager, says, 'A thief will do something different when he's going to steal, whether it's second base or from a bank.' "
    His Own Immortality: "Think about my two great memories of 1954. Wid Matthews wanted me to fill in until Harry Chiti returned, and Chub Feeney had to make a tough decision between me and Mickey Grasso. To put it in perspective, here's the lifetime batting averages: Chiti, .238; Grasso, .226; Garagiola, .257. Those are lifetime averages, not area codes."
    On Public Speaking: "The audience is always ticked off because the speaker isn't Bob Hope."
    On His Public Speaking: "She started out by telling me she was a former English teacher. I thought to myself, 'Here it comes, the 30-minute lecture on my grammar.' She says, 'Your elocution is terrible, Joe. You always drop your i-n-g's. You say runnin', kickin', pitchin' and throwin'. I wish you would try to change that.' 'You're right,' I told her. 'But, you know, if I start saying runn ing , kick ing ,
and throw ing , I ain't gonna be work ing ' "
    Joe will keep working. He's as much a part of the national pastime as the hit-and-run or the seventh-inning stretch.
    What's a ballgame without a beer, a hot dog and a guy named Joe?
    He can even tell you what's the first to go in a ballplayer. "It's not the legs, the arm, the eyes, even the reflexes. It's the hair."

Reprinted with permission by the Los Angeles Times.

Jim Murray Memorial Foundation | P.O. Box 60753 | Pasadena | CA | 91116


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