Sterling Was Yankees Radio

AP Photo/Bill Kostroun, File

I had my transistor radio and listened to the first of sports talk radio programs when they originated many years prior to the current trend heard today. Then, this young sports fan from the Bronx made sure to hear the golden voice of John Sterling on WMCA radio.

Persistence, late at night and I dialed on the old rotary phone with a constant busy signal. Finally a voice of the producer asked,“What do you want to talk to John about.” I waited in line and there was John.

I was hesitant as a first time caller, his golden monotone and abrupt answer to my question about the Mets. I vowed to never to make that phone call again and I stood my ground. Years later at Yankee Stadium in the press dining room, I recalled that moment with John.

He said, “Young lad, I’m sorry if I offended you but I don’t remember.” Regardless, that was many years ago. And many years later I greeted John as he walked past me in the press dining room at the old Yankee Stadium. He left the radio booth after calling a Yankees win or loss at the new ballpark as I wrote on deadline and I would make sure to say, “Have a good night John.”

We hardly engaged in conversations, brief, and I said, “John hope you are always here because you are Yankees baseball.” His walk was much slower in later years and you had to speak close to John who always put a hand over one ear.

He would always refer to me as a young lad, never knowing me by name. We were never close colleagues but my passion for baseball and listening to New York Yankees baseball on radio was attributed to that voice of John Sterling. He had a voice that made me know it was baseball season listening at home, in the car, in the backyard, or on a summer retreat.

So Monday it was inevitable when John announced to the baseball world and Yankees fans that it was immediate retirement after 36 years as radio voice of the New York Yankees. I, as with so many, did not expect this inevitable day to arrive 16 games into a new baseball season. You knew John was tired and was missing more games than usual because of health reasons and minimizing his schedule.

But not this soon. You would want to hear John say goodbye one last time this season to his loyal Yankees fans. He will be honored Saturday afternoon at the stadium prior to the Yankees-Rays game and will say goodbye. John will make his rounds in the radio and TV booths with hopes he can call another inning or two.

A Yankees employee last week said to me that John was tired. But when he stepped in the booth, put his hand over one ear, and spoke through a stand microphone it was vintage, a rejuvenated John Sterling. At 85-years of age he was Yankees baseball.

After the Yankees win over the Blue Jays in the Bronx April 7, the John Sterling victory “Yankees win…theeeeeee Yankees win!” did not have the same enthusiasm. You sensed John was tired. It would be his last call of a Yankees win.

I am a very blessed human being,” Sterling said in a statement Monday. “I have been able to do what I wanted, broadcasting for 64 years. As a little boy growing up in New York as a Yankees fan, I was able to broadcast the Yankees for 36 years, it’s all to my benefit, and I leave very, very happy. I look forward to seeing everyone again on Saturday.”

Though John made his share of mistakes, who doesn’t during a live broadcast, he was a must listen. He had that voice, the anticipation of what the new home run call was when a first time Yankee hit one out of the ballpark. I must admit to being one of those as a loyal listener to Yankees radio at home or covering ball games in the press box.

And those critics who said it was time for a change and for John to call it a day at 85-years of age. Some of my social media followers Monday wrote “Lack of details in his game description, mistakes. forced taglines, a homer extraordinaire.” One even wrote, “Goodbye you clown.”

Far from being a clown or homer. John Sterling would provide dead air at times and you heard the crowd as if you were in the ballpark. Far from a homer, he would criticize the Yankees for lack of hitting or scoring runs, heard so many times during that disaster of last season. He called for changes with the roster, criticized a bad play, and commented there was that lack of left handed presence in the lineup.

There were more than 5,420 regular season games and 211 called during the postseason. The home run calls that were anticipated, “Bern Baby Bern” (Bernie Williams), “A thrilla from Godzilla” (Hideki Matsui), “It’s an A-Bomb! From A-Rod! for Alex Rodriguez who he would never criticize and stirred more than one negative comment. “Robbie Cano, don’t cha know” (Robinson Cano) and for Derek Jeter (El Capitan)

All Rise! Here comes the Judge” for an Aaron Judge home run bomb. And recently new calls after a Juan Soto or Alex Verdugo home run. You anticipated what would be the next John Sterling home run call for a new player on the roster, a part of the John Sterling listening experience.

He once said to me, “I will be here as long as I want and I don’t listen to the critics.” He was right because John Sterling was New York Yankees baseball. We will still listen because a purist as I am enjoys that radio call over those televised voices that depend too much on analyzing over graphics.

But not hearing that John Sterling introduce “Live from Yankee Stadium this is Yankees baseball,” will need some adjustment to the new voices that take over. Perhaps the Yankees will have him be co- master of ceremonies with Michael Kay at their traditional Old Timers Day. And it’s a matter of time when the Baseball Hall of Fame inducts him with the Ford C. Frick Award for major contributions to baseball as a broadcaster.

After all, John Sterling was New York Yankees baseball.

Rich Mancuso: X (Formerly Twitter) @Ring786 Mancuso

About the Author

Rich Mancuso

Rich Mancuso is a regular contributor at NY Sports Day, covering countless New York Mets, Yankees, and MLB teams along with some of the greatest boxing matches over the years. He is an award winning sports journalist and previously worked for The Associated Press, New York Daily News, Gannett, and, in a career that spans almost 40 years.

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