Tired of the weekly commute from New York to his Phoenix home, Joe Garagiola is stepping down as co-anchor of NBC's "Today" show.
The avuncular former major-leaguer, brought back to "Today" 20 months ago to try to stop the show's ratings hemorrhage, has a new assignment as of Monday: correspondent-at-large. He'll specialize in sports and human-interest stories.
"The travel got stale," Mr. Garagiola said yesterday of his "Today" stint. "Now I've got the best of both worlds. My frequent-flier miles will go down, but I won't spend so much time in airports. I call in, they'll tell me: 'There's a bald-headed guy living in a tree in New Hampshire. Go do a story.'"
Mr. Garagiola says he requested the change from NBC News boss Michael Gartner about six weeks ago. As a show of faith, Mr. Gartner extended his contract -- due to expire June 1 -- for two years.
"That really made me feel good," said Mr. Garagiola, 65, a "Today" co-anchor from 1969 to 1973. "They could have thrown me a crumb. Having the contract be more than one year made me feel like they wanted me to be part of the show."
"Today" chief Jeff Zucker said the staff was "upbeat" about Mr. Garagiola's new role. "Joe got us through a very difficult period. He's been a steadying force, but the bottom line is that he has steadied this ship and now he can do that from afar."