Phil Rizzuto
1954
Joe Garagiola, Phil Rizzuto, Dick Vitale, and Ken Venturi. Italian Americans gain fame as sportscasters.


There is an impression that notwithstanding the extensive prominence of Italian American athletes on the playing fields it is only in the last couple of generations that they functioned in identifiable conspicuous high visibility ancillary positions such as sports casters. Strictly speaking such was not the case as illustrated by legendary baseball announcer Harry Caray. Because of a non-identifiable Italian surname, many were unaware that he was born in 1919 as Harold Carabino, but changed his name when he began broadcasting in 1939 eventually becoming a fixture in Chicago and inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame as a broadcaster. In contradistinction to Caray for other Italian Americans, especially to those who give public expression to their heritage, entry into the broadcasting field followed careers either as active players or coaches. Among the first to do so was Joe Garagiola, notable big league catcher born in the "Little Italy" of St. Louis in 1926, who enjoyed a number of years as a well-known broadcaster and also became a media celebrity. Following retirement from active playing Garagiola began broadcasting St. Louis Cardinals games beginning in 1954. Enjoying popularity because of his easy, folksy, and friendly approach, he was an NBC mainstay broadcaster for approximately 30 years during which time he became a fixture on the "Today" show from 1962-1973 and at various times, broadcasted the "Game of the Week," the All Star and World Series games. He seemed a natural fit for the medium and was known for sprinkling humor with his observations. In describing what it was like to play for the Pittsburgh Pirates in a season when they lost 112 games, he commented, "One day we had a rainout and we staged a victory party." In the course of a long sports caster career he also was the telecast announcer for the California Angels and the Arizona Diamondbacks. In 1991 he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame for his broadcasting talents.

Another star athlete who succeeded as a sportscaster was Phil Rizzuto, born in New York City in 1917. The former consummate shortstop of the New York Yankees and Hall of Famer who played in the 1940s and 1950s, retired from active playing in 1956 to assume a post as an announcer of Yankee ballgames. It was the start of a lengthy career that was even longer than his playing days during which time he brought, in addition to knowledge of the game, a touch of humor. His expression "Holy Cow", for example, became part of the expected lexicon of his time in the announcer's booth. He frequently talked about Italian meals he enjoyed and the best cannolis to be found in the Bronx's "Little Italy."

Dick Vitale, considered college basketball’s omnipresent figure, is still another Italian American sports caster whose ethnic identification is very visible. Born in East Rutherford, New Jersey in 1939, and deeply impressed by the hardships of his father to earn a living, Dick graduated Seton Hall University and William Patterson University. He began coaching basketball first on a high school level, then college at the University of Detroit, and professional with the Detroit Pistons. Success at these levels provided the opportunity in 1979 to become basketball analyst for ESPN where he could share with the audience his passion for the game replete with his trademark exhilaration, animation and enthusiasm that have won numerous awards. He mixes his knowledge of the game with "Vitale-isms" that have a life of their own: "PTP'er" (prime time player); "Rolls Roycer" (flat out superstar). Describing himself as "bald, one-eyed, Italian from back in Jersey who couldn't run or jump or play more than a lick" he has made an indelible mark in broadcasting college basketball visibly while manifesting an enthusiasm about his Italian heritage.

Born in 1931 in San Francisco, golfer Ken Venturi had an illustrious career as a professional golfer, becoming the winner of both the British Open and the United States Open in 1956. Health problems forced him to quit active golfing but to begin a career as golf analyst for CBS. He excelled in that capacity from 1968 until his retirement in 2002 -the longest running lead analyst in televised sports history causing Golf Digest to name him the top golf commentator on television.

Joe Garagiola
Dick Vitale
Ken Venturi




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