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This is banquet time, the laughing season, the peak of it. Observe, at left, a happy victim. He is Mr. A. L. Kirk-patrick, a member of the Atlanta Quarterback Club. He arrived at the banquet scene in good time for the cocktail party. Then he dined on shrimp cocktail, steak, salad, pecan pie and coffee and, as seen here, is reacting to a talk being delivered by the second-string catcher who became a first-rate baseball broadcaster and raconteur: Joe Garagiola of St. Louis. Joe was saying:
"Or you take people who come up and ask me, 'Why did you quit baseball? You look like you could still be playing today.' Well, fellows, I'll tell you. There are a lot of little things that let you know when it's time to quit. For instance, I was traded four times when they only had eight teams in the league—that told me something. And then, when I went to the Giants, Leo Durocher was the manager. Now this guy could upset a Trappist monastery. I remember I walked into the clubhouse for the first time when Durocher was having a meeting. The Giants have already clinched the pennant and they're going to play Cleveland in the World Series. Well, Durocher sees me walk in, and this is what he says to me. I hope that if there is an Italian present, he won't take offense. But this is what Leo said, word for word. 'Dago,' he said, 'I want you to catch today. I don't want Westrum to get hurt.' "
Joe Garagiola had to wait for Mr. Kirkpatrick and the other Atlanta Quarterbacks to recover. When the last back had been slapped and the last tear had been wiped away, Joe added as an apparently sudden afterthought: "What really hurt me was that Leo didn't even know my name!"
The Quarterbacks roared again, and Joe rushed on:
"Yes, it was the little things that told me it was time to quit. A photographer would come into the clubhouse and say to me, 'Hey, you, hold this while I take a picture of Musial.' Or maybe, before the game, a big rainstorm blows up and we're all huddled there in the dugout. I'm there, wearing a big-league uniform like everybody else, and the clubhouse boy comes up to me and says, 'Joe, run out and get the rosin bag, will you?' I mean, man, it's raining out there. And then, then maybe it clears up and we're all set to run out for practice. Everybody's talking it up. You know, 'Let's get 'em today, gang. Let's see that old pepper out there.' You know the last thing I'd hear when I started out of the dugout? It wasn't, 'Go get 'em, Joe, boy!' It was, 'Hey, Dago, don't use the mask we're going to use in the game.' "
Joe talked on, regaling his audience with tales of Yogi Berra, with whom he grew up in St. Louis: "Yogi is the kind of a guy who'll make a remark you won't pay much attention to at the time. But then it will come back to haunt you. I remember a bunch of us were discussing the way attendance was falling off in Kansas City. Everybody offered a theory, and then Yogi said, 'Well, if people don't come out to the ball park, who's going to stop them?' You know? It sounds almost right, but it will start keeping you awake nights later on. You'll find yourself walking the floor and asking yourself, "What did he say, what did he say?' "
In Atlanta, Joe Garagiola gave the impression that he was making up everything as he went along. But actually, except for a preface of local jokes he always manages to pick up, he was telling the same stories he has been using around the circuit for years. He can go on telling them for several years more, for the wintertime sports banquet—an old American institution—seems to be turning into a national mania. The American male cannot get enough of them. From late October through February he may be found in countless armories, gymnasiums, club auditoriums and the ballrooms of grand hotels, awed by the presence of athletic heroes on the dais, amused beyond reason by the witty remarks of the toastmaster and the principal speakers—oldtime ballplayers like Jimmie Dykes and Lefty Gomez, big-time coaches like Duffy Daugherty and Woody Hayes, newspapermen like Morris Frank of Houston, Warren Brown and John Carmichael of Chicago, football immortals like Harry Stuhldreher of Notre Dame's Four Horsemen.
Stuhldreher, who is an executive of U.S. Steel, is perhaps the busiest speaker of all—27 dates in November, 14 in December, 14 in January, 9 in February and 13 in March. His total for a full year usually runs around 250. Stuhldreher is a master spellbinder, as adept at getting laughs as he is at bringing his audience to the verge of tears when he speaks of sports as an almost holy crusade.
No name is too big for banquet sponsors to go after. A year ago, President Kennedy spoke at one of the most elegant banquets, the National Football Foundation's annual dinner at New York's Waldorf-Astoria. One of his neighbors on the dais was Bob Hope. At the foundation's dinner last month the recipient of the Gold Medal Award was Supreme Court Justice Byron (Whizzer) White, who went after laughs with a few remarks about the Kennedy family's passion for touch football. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy was introduced from the floor at this dinner, and the following evening he presented the Heisman Trophy to Quarterback Terry Baker of Oregon State at the Downtown Athletic Club in New York.
Celebrated college football and basketball coaches make themselves available for all kinds of banquets and are especially interested in some of the meat-loaf dinners in high school gymnasiums. The coaches come well equipped with jokes. Sample: "When we got clobbered by Tech last season, my little boy said to me at the dinner table, 'Dad, you ain't much of a coach.' I said to the boy, 'Son, how many times have I told you never to say ain't?' " This brings down the house, and so do certain gimmicks like the one Adolph Rupp of the University of Kentucky favors. After warming up his audience, Rupp will sometimes take off his coat, fling it aside and, as he rolls up his shirtsleeves, cry out: "Any of you fellows who've got appointments better go now because I'm just getting started here!"