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Cubs historical sleuthing: Joe Garagiola edition

Garagiola played for the Cubs, but this one’s from his Cardinals days.

Bettmann / Contributor

Getty Images says:

St. Louis Cardinal catcher Joe Garagiola slides into third base during fifth inning of the Cardinals-Chicago Cubs baseball game Sept. 23. Umpire Larry Goetz (right) watches as Cubs third sacker Stan Hack makes the out. Mike Gonzales (25) Cardinal coach, looks on.

Once again, from a 1940s era photo, we have the date but not the year.

It wasn’t too hard to find. Garagiola’s rookie year with the Cardinals was 1946, so I started there, and that’s where I found the game in question.

This game was played Monday, September 23, 1946. The Cardinals were in a tight race with the Dodgers, trying for their fourth NL pennant in five years. The only one they didn’t win from 1942-46 was the one the Cubs did in 1945, and this game was quite important for them. The Cubs were in third place, but had been eliminated about a week earlier.

This play happened in the top of the fifth inning. With two out, Garagiola had singled. The next batter, Marty Marion, singled to right, but Cubs right fielder Bill Nicholson threw Garagiola out at third base to end the inning.

Garagiola, who had two hits in this game, scored the only run of the game in the third inning. He led off with a single and was sacrificed to second.

Now can you imagine a manager doing that in 2023? Sacrificing a runner to second in the third inning of a scoreless game? Nope nope nope.

But in 1946, the Cardinals did just that and it wound up scoring a run, as Harry Brecheen (the Cardinals pitcher!) singled Garagiola in for the only run in a 1-0 St. Louis win. The Cubs had nine hits and three walks and left 11 runners on base.

The Cardinals and Dodgers wound up tied for the NL pennant at 96-58 and played in the very first MLB pennant playoff series, then a best-of-three. The Cardinals took two in a row from the Dodgers and won the NL title, and eventually the World Series over the Red Sox.

Garagiola, who had grown up with Yogi Berra in St. Louis and was almost as highly-touted when both players became pro ballplayers, didn’t have the playing career Berra had, playing mostly as a backup catcher for nine seasons. Two of those were with the Cubs in 1953 and 1954. The Cubs got him in June 1953 as part of a massive 10-player deal with the Pirates, along with with Ralph Kiner, George Metkovich and Howie Pollet for Bob Addis, Toby Atwell, George Freese, Gene Hermanski, Bob Schultz, Preston Ward. The Cubs also tossed in $150,000, the equivalent of about $1.6 million today.

They don’t make deals like that anymore, that’s for sure.

Garagiola went on to much more fame as a baseball broadcaster, announcing Cardinals games as well as working for many years as Vin Scully’s sidekick on NBC Sports.