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The Silver Cord(s): On John Sterling, and My Love of the Game

Ball Game Over! World Series Over! Yankees Win! Theeeeeee-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh Yankees…WIN!

 

After 5,420 regular season games (including 5,060 consecutive), 211 post-season games, and five World Series Championships called, John Sterling is calling it a career. It’s over. No more will there be the cool and steady play-by-play coming over our radios; no more loveable goof-ups, no more cheesy (yet memorable) home run calls, and no more exuberant, chest-beating endings to New York Yankee wins.

I’m so sad that it’s over, but even happier it happened at all.

On Monday, April 15, 2024, the eighty-five-year-old Sterling put out a statement, saying, “I am a very blessed human being. 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.” In a follow-up conversation with Sports Illustrated, Sterling would go on to say, “I couldn’t be happier. I’m thrilled. I can’t wait to get off the air. I’ve been on the air since Feb. 1, 1960, and I’m tired. I wanna do what I want like I did from October through March, and I will.” What’s he going to do in retirement? Why, watch baseball, of course!

When it comes to Yankee baseball, John Sterling is in many respects a part of all I’ve ever known, and in a way, listening to him call a game is kind of like home. One of my friends, a Yankee fan himself, told me shortly after hearing the news, “I bet over my childhood I’ve listened to 1500 games, for 15 years I listened to every Yankee game. He was the best.” My friend is right, and Sterling’s consistency is more amazing than one might think; for as Ryan Spaeder points out on X, Sterling “called 29.5 percent of all games in #Yankees franchise history – this includes 49.9 percent of New York’s postseason games and 100 percent of Derek Jeter’s plate appearances.” Simply amazing.

For me, it was originally on TV with Michael Kay, time spent during countless car rides, and while laying my head down at night when I was too young to stay up and watch the games, that I was soaked in the rich, melodic voice of John Sterling, and grew to love his style and flair, including what many would consider to be his, well, “embarrassing tendencies.” When I listened to John speak poetically about the game and team I love, I heard not an embarrassment, but the warm persona of everybody’s favorite grandpa, and a relic of an era no longer here – a better one. He was always having a good time, and unafraid to poke fun at others, as well as himself, without ever losing his credibility.

Was he always accurate? No, but we didn’t care. Was he cheesy? Absolutely! But it made you love him all the more. Hated by other fan bases? Occasionally, and that just made him all the better to us.  I mean, who else in all of baseball would be so willing to just break out into song on national radio to entertain his audience?
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Swing, and it’s drilled to deep right field! That ball is high…It is far…IT. IS. GONE!

 

John Sterling, THE voice of Yankees radio for longer than I’ve been alive, is the epitome of classic Americana, pure fun; and it was this combination of the two that allowed him to creatively coin so many unique, classic (and sometimes questionable) home run calls that will live on forever. I will never forget such gems like the “Jeterian Swing,” or “It’s an A-Bomb, from A-Rod!” Countless 90s kids can recall with fondness watching the old stadium going nuts as Bernie Williams rounded the bases after a game-tying home run, with John yelling out into the October night, “Bernie goes boom…Bern Baby Bern!”

My favorite player, Tino Martinez, often got likened to Babe Ruth, as Sterling christened him “The Bam-Tino,” and as we entered the aughts, “A thrilla, by Godzilla,” “Robbie Cano, Dontcha Know,” and “The Grandy Man Can” became the new rallying cries echoed by fans everywhere. Closer to the end of his career, Sterling would be able to call Aaron Judge homers with the classic, “All Rise, Here Comes the Judge!” and Giancarlo Stanton bombs by busting out a bit of (rough?) Italian, “Giancarlo, non si può de stopparlo!”

As time went on, and his calls became zanier and often somewhat musical (John is a big fan of Broadway, and music in general), fans would celebrate the acquisition of a new hitter by the Yankees by wondering what home run call he would get from Sterling, but it wasn’t just the fans, as Aaron Judge commented in the wake of John’s retirement, “The home run calls he comes up with, we’ll be sitting on the bus whenever we trade for someone new or it’s someone’s first game, we’ll always go back and forth – hey, what’s John going to come up with this time?”

In addition to his home run calls, Sterling became famous amongst Yankee fans for his rapport with his color commentator since 2004, and friend since 1987, Suzyn Waldman, starting out every game with “Well I thank you, Suzyn, good evening, everyone,” and addressing her with his go-to comment whenever something odd or unexpected happened, “You just can’t predict baseball, Suzyn.” Sometimes, his quirky nature would come through when he’d repeat something – often verbatim – that Suzyn had said moments before as if she hadn’t said anything at all. Waldman, of course, handled these moments with grace, and we the fans would always laugh and shake our heads in either amusement, bemusement, or oftentimes, both. As Suzyn herself said when asked about her friend calling it a career, “Nothing will ever be the same. It can’t be. Life goes on, and we all go on, but nothing will ever be the same.”

John’s career goes far beyond, but is ultimately defined by, his time with the Yankees, a time which is now over. He will be replaced by Justin Shackil and Emmanuel Berbari, both of whom are good, but they are not John Sterling, nor do they have to be. His is an era and a legacy all his own, and we can look forward to them carving out their own niches, without having to try to do the impossible and “live up” to him; I wish them both well.
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This piece in many ways seems like a eulogy, which it shouldn’t, as he is very much alive; as Michael Kay said in response to his “emotional” phone call with his old broadcast partner and friend, “His voice does not sound like an 85-year-old man, he sounds like he did when I started working with him when he was 50.” Yet, it’s almost as if a part of us, a part of me, is passing away. John will now get to spend as much time as he wants with his friends and family, including his four kids, and he downright deserves to; but despite my happiness for him, I’ll miss getting to spend my own, albeit rare, time with the man who knows me as nothing more than an anonymous ear on the other side of his microphone.

My most recent, and now final, memory of listening to him came at the start of this season, when I discovered that you could listen to John and Suzyn (or any home/away radio team) through the Apple TV feed, flawlessly synced up with the game on my screen; it was perfect.

In closing, John Sterling is a legend of the game, and he is getting to go out by his choice, and in the way he decides to, which is all any of us can ever ask for in our endeavors; and as a lover of music himself, I think John Sterling’s career – though he would call it his “act” –  can be summed up in the dulcet tones of another American legend of a bygone era, Frank Sinatra:

“I did it my way.”

You sure did, John, and we are so very grateful for it.

 

Aaron is a Writer and communicator who has notably served on the communications team of the Westchester County Executive. Nicknamed "Mr. Baseball" in his youth, Aaron is a lifelong Yankee fan, Tino Martinez and Aaron Judge enthusiast, and a fierce defender of Craig Biggio's Hall of Fame worthiness. When he is not writing, or doing baseball related activities, Aaron is an avid foodie and culinarian. His non-baseball writing can be found at the Realety Check substack.

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