Arizona Diamondbacks broadcaster Joe Garagiola Sr. had front-row seats for the 1976 presidential election. The Paradise Valley resident and his wife stayed that night in the Lincoln Bedroom of the White House and watched election coverage on television with President Gerald Ford and his family.
Democratic nominee Jimmy Carter had gained a slight lead, and the president decided to go to bed when it appeared no quick winner would emerge.
Garagiola, a former St. Louis Cardinals catcher and œToday Show panelist, shared the story Wednesday, a day after Ford™s death at his California home. Garagiola, now 80, said watching the election unfold with Ford was like living inside a page of history.
œHe said, ˜Let™s go to bed, and let™s have a good night™s sleep and see what happens in the morning,™ Garagiola recalled. œBut I don™t think he slept very well. I know I didn™t.
Garagiola had always stayed on the political sidelines, but he grew to admire Ford and decided to campaign for him when he ran for his own term. He traveled with the president on Air Force One and hosted speaking engagements that were designed to resemble talk shows.
Garagiola, whose father was an immigrant, found himself attending meetings and functions with Ford and political heavy hitters such as Dick Cheney, Bob Dole and Henry Kissinger. They were all on a first-name basis with each other.
œI was like a kid in the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory, Garagiola said.
I had a pretty late night, so forgive me if I am haunted by the image of Cheney, Dole and Kissinger as Oompa Loompas.