“It was ground-breaking in several respects,’’ says baseball author and historian Curt Smith. “It certainly established Joe as the premier baseball humorist and anecdotist of his time. And it also showed his appreciation of how baseball is a very simple game and ought not be numbered or analyzed to death. As a broadcaster, Joe often lampooned people who would over-analyze the game. He knew listeners were more interested in the people stories and humor rather than in statistical or strategic overload. ‘Baseball Is A Funny Game’ was Joe telling tales on the printed page the way he had in the broadcast booth. It really was a seminal book.”
One day, during the 1958 season, he and his wife Audrey – who was the organist at Busch Stadium – were driving to the ballpark, when Joe began lamenting the dearth of entertaining baseball books for the average fan. He recently had read a “how-to” tome by former big-league player and manager Paul Richards.
Lippincott, out of Philadelphia, published the book, and Garagiola promoted it masterfully. His big break came when he appeared on “The Tonight Show” with Parr, who was the Johnny Carson, Jay Leno and David Letterman of his day. “Jack wasn’t a baseball fan, but he loved the book and told the audience that they needed to go out and buy it,’’ Garagiola says. “It just went gangbusters from there. And the interesting thing is that not only baseball fans bought it, but also a lot of people – especially women – who hadn’t been interested in the game before.”
“Baseball Is A Funny Game” spent nearly four months on the best-seller lists and went through about 20 printings – the last occurring in 1987. Now a collector’s item, it continues to resonate with fans. Much of its humor is timeless.
Garagiola also includes this marvelous story about a conversation between Berra, the Yankees catcher, and Milwuakee Braves slugger Hank Aaron during the 1957 World Series.
When Henry came up to hit, Yogi noticed that the trademark on the bat was facing the pitcher. “Henry,’’ Yogi said, “you don’t want to break that bat. Better turn it around so you can read the trademark.” “Yogi,” Henry replied, “I didn’t come up here to read.”
And, finally, there was this funny account about Tex Rickard, the former public address announcer at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field who occasionally became tongue-tied.
Once there were some coats draped along the left field railing, and the umpire asked Rickard to tell the fans to get them off. “Attention, please!” came Rickard’s call. “Will the fans behind the rail in left field please remove their clothing.”
Scott Pitoniak is a freelance writer from Rochester, N.Y.