He's part of the Garagiola baseball legacy. But, this D-backs announcer is 'just Chris'
Chris Garagiola, a broadcaster for the Arizona Diamondbacks, knows what you’re thinking.
It’s the last name, right? He’s the grandson of the late Joe Garagiola Sr., the former big-league player who became a Hall of Fame broadcaster and comedic TV personality — he was co-host of the “Today” show for a while, called the old NBC Game of the Week and guest-hosted “The Tonight Show,” among other things. Later he became an outspoken opponent of players chewing tobacco.
Chris Garagiola’s father, Joe Jr., was the Diamondbacks’ first general manager and helped build the 2001 World Series championship team; he is now a senior director of special projects.
So yeah, Chris Garagiola knows what you’re thinking.
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'I might as well have been born on the press box floor'
“You think from the outside, we’re talking double nepotism here,” he said. “I mean I might as well have been born on the press box floor.”
Garagiola laughed when he said it. It’s a good line, but he’s serious about the work he has put in.
“Some people always doubt you and point to nepotism,” he said. “That’s good and fine. But people I’ve gotten to know, people I’ve worked alongside, they know me and they’ve seen me. If I have their respect and their approval, that’s good enough for me.”
This is Garagiola’s first year with the Diamondbacks. He’s the pregame and postgame radio host and backup play-by-play announcer for the team’s radio broadcasts on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station and the Arizona Diamondbacks Radio Network. He spent the previous four years calling minor-league games for the Double-A Pensacola Wahoos in Florida.
“Look, if it was just a matter of my dad picking up the phone and making a couple of phone calls, I wouldn’t have spent four years down in the minors,” Garagiola said. “After a year or two it would have been, ‘OK, this is fun, go ahead and make it happen, Daddy.’ No. He really didn’t do a ton.”
Not that his father did nothing.
“It certainly helped that people in Arizona knew him and liked him and respected him,” Garagiola said. “Maybe that opened a couple of doors. But once I walk in, what can I do? Who am I? What do I bring the the table?”
'I needed to get better'
He needed the time calling minor-league games, Garagiola said.
“Those four years, especially those first two, in my opinion I was not good enough,” he said. “I didn’t have the ability. I needed to go back and I needed to get better. And the only way to get better was to call more games. The beauty of low-A, Double-A baseball, there’s not a ton of people listening day in and day out.”
That gave Garagiola more room to experiment, to work out his own voice and personality in the booth.
“I had the freedom to be myself,” he said. “Lord knows I made plenty of mistakes. I tried things that didn’t work. But I found who I was, and I like that style and I like that sound. Ultimately so did the D-Backs when the opportunity presented itself.”
Even in Pensacola, he was cognizant of what his last name meant to baseball people. So he didn’t always use it.
“The idea when I got started,” he said, “especially when I got into the minors — and I still do it today — whenever I introduce myself to somebody I’m just Chris. ‘What’s your name?’ I’m Chris. I work for the Diamondbacks, sir. It’s great to meet you.
“I’ll kind of let them figure that other stuff out on their own. I don’t necessarily need to bring that to the front of the queue.”
Garagiola came to this gradually.
“The last-name thing, as a little kid I thought it was really cool,” he said. “As I got a little older I started to understand that people were talking about the accomplishments of somebody else, and I think I had, by the transitive property, been like, ‘I, too, was part of the Game of the Week.’”
He was not. So Garagiola realized he had to carve out his own identity, within the game and without. He loved watching sports — any sports, “just a weirdo, you know.”
'I’m beaming with pride' to broadcast the Diamondbacks
He played baseball in college for a couple of years. The attraction of broadcasting obviously had something to do with his love of sports, but that wasn’t the only thing.
“I got into broadcasting because I really enjoy public speaking,” Garagiola said. “I took a speech class in college, I took an oral interpretation class in college, a bunch of performances, things like that. I never really got into acting. I kind of wish I did. Like a low-key goal of mine through life is to try and give voice acting a really good try, because I think that would be so much fun.”
Maybe later. For now, he’s got a good gig with the Diamondbacks and the potential for bigger and better things along the way.
“When I first started talking to them I was 28 years old, I think,” he said. “It was literally just a matter of, ‘Can you give me some advice, can you give me some feedback?’ What the hell am I supposed to do to get from the minors to the majors, because that’s where everyone wants to be.”
And now that’s where he is, and he’s loving it.
“I’m kind of a self-deprecator, a little bit like my grandfather,” Garagiola said. “There aren’t a ton of moments where I’m really proud of myself, but this is one of them, where on the inside I’m beaming with pride to say that I’m a major-league broadcaster for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
“And to do it at this age, and to feel like I belong here, not that it’s just some sort of schtick, is something I really cherish.”