Garagiola praises O’Neil in accepting honor from Hall of Fame

From Spencer Fordin at on July 26, 2014, on longtime SABR member Joe Garagiola:

Joe Garagiola Sr. has always had a delightful sense of humor about his place in the game, even in serious moments. And so it was no surprise that Garagiola kept the crowd laughing Saturday, when he received the Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award in absentia.

Garagiola, just the third recipient of the award after O’Neil and Arizona executive Roland Hemond, could not travel to be part of the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s proceedings at Doubleday Field. The 88-year-old has endured a rough year in the health department, and he explained his absence in a charming video message.

“Some of you may be wondering why I’m not with you today,” said Garagiola as part of his video message. “I had a double-hip [operation], I suffered a stroke on October 2nd, and a heart attack on December 23rd. It was a tough Christmas. When I asked my doctors about coming to Cooperstown, they sounded like a chorus. They said, ‘Joe, you aren’t strong enough yet.’ I was disappointed. I still am. My family’s disappointed. But I really appreciate this honor more than you know.”

Garagiola, one of baseball’s great personalities for more than four decades, was being honored for the character he showed away from the diamond. The former player, author and broadcaster was lauded for his contributions to the well-being and potential future health of his fellow big league peers.

Garagiola, among other endeavors, helped found the Baseball Assistance Team, which seeks to help former players and coaches who are in need of financial assistance. And years ago, before it was a popular cause celebre, Garagiola started advocating for a ban of smokeless tobacco.

That ambition has intensified following the recent death of Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, who traced his fatal salivary gland cancer to his rampant use of smokeless tobacco. Garagiola’s initiative, the National Spit Tobacco Education Program, has talked about the danger of tobacco for 20 years.

Garagiola, a former catcher and the author of “Baseball Is a Funny Game,” is no novice to the Hall of Fame. He was honored for his decades of broadcasting work in 1991, when he won the Ford C. Frick Award, and his video message on Saturday celebrated the game’s greatest players.

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Originally published: July 26, 2014. Last Updated: July 26, 2014.