John Sterling’s farewell event earns a special place in Yankees lore

John Sterling is with his family at Yankee Stadium as the Yankees give him a befitting farewell on April 20, 2024.
Michael Bennington
Sunday April 21, 2024

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The Yankees’ official farewell to John Sterling on Saturday is the envy of everyone who loves baseball. His retirement celebration was as vibrant and full of personality as his iconic calls themselves and a dream for many players.

The Yankees broadcaster of 35 years utilized his signature humor and storytelling prowess to mark the occasion at a press conference and on-field ceremony. At the press conference, John Sterling regaled reporters with anecdotes from his storied career, seamlessly weaving in his trademark nicknames and reminiscing about the unforgettable moments that shaped his legacy. He also offered heartfelt advice to his successors at WFAN, encouraging them to stay true to themselves and cultivate their own unique broadcasting style.

John Sterling’s lighthearted spirit shone through when he jokingly questioned manager Aaron Boone’s timing for a quip, playfully asking, “I think he’s getting close?”  

John Sterling likened his own career path to a series of fortuitous breaks, echoing Bing Crosby’s book title “Call Me Lucky.” Reflecting on his success with genuine humility, he declared himself a “very, very fortunate individual.”

The on-field ceremony at Yankee Stadium on Saturday solidified John Sterling’s place as a true Yankee icon. The crowd erupted in a heartwarming standing ovation and a thunderous chant of “John Sterling” as he walked onto the field. A video montage showcasing his legendary home-run calls played, setting the stage for a tearful but celebratory send-off.

Joined by his longtime WFAN partner Suzyn Waldman, John Sterling basked in the adulation of the crowd. Messages of appreciation from Yankee legends like David Cone, Bernie Williams, and Derek Jeter played on the scoreboard, while Tino Martinez presented him with a pair of Yankees cufflinks. The team showered him with gifts, including a silver microphone trophy, a jersey featuring the number 5,631 to mark the games he called, and a big-screen TV.

While addressing the crowd, John Sterling openly admitted that he may have held on a bit too long. He mentioned his attempt to push himself by joining the team on their recent road trip, but ultimately realized his energy and stamina were no longer what they used to be. With a touch of wisdom earned through years of service, he concluded, “I think it’s time.”

John Sterling’s retirement marks the end of an era, but his voice and his passion for the game will undoubtedly leave a lasting impression on Yankee fans and baseball lovers alike.

John Sterling reveals reason for retirement during pre-mame Q&A

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John Sterling’s retirement ceremony commenced with a familiar sight – him occupying the seat typically reserved for Yankees manager Aaron Boone during interviews. It was fittingly introduced by Suzyn Waldman, his broadcasting partner of two decades.

What followed was 22 minutes of quintessential John Sterling brilliance. He kicked off the proceedings with a playful jab at Boone’s supportive stance towards slumping players, eliciting hearty laughter from the packed media room.

The Q&A session that ensued was a testament to John Sterling’s unique style, filled with entertaining anecdotes and candid explanations for his abrupt retirement announcement the previous Monday.

John Sterling admitted to making an error in judgment, acknowledging that ideally, he should have retired in March. He reflected on his decision to broadcast an exhibition game, which he deemed as meaningless, followed by an extensive trip to Houston and Arizona. He noted that these events took a significant toll on him, ultimately leading to his inability to sustain the demands of the daily broadcasting schedule any longer.

“I did it all wrong,” he said. “I should have quit on March 1 or March 15, but I decided I do one exhibition game, which is useless, as you all know. And then we went on that long trip. We went to Houston and Arizona. And, boy, that was it. I didn’t want to work every day.

Approaching 86 years of age with 64 years in broadcasting under his belt, John Sterling acknowledged the impact of aging on his stamina.

“If you work 64 years, and on your next birthday, you’re going to be 86, I think it’s time.”

The long-time Yankees voice still cherishes working with Suzyn. However, but he admitted that he didn’t have the same energy as once he had. Reflecting on his broadcasting debut in 1960, John Sterling reminisced about his extensive and fulfilling career but conceded that he was drained and looking forward to some time away from the hustle and bustle of stadium.

“Working with Suzyn is a lark, but I just don’t have the strength and stamina,” he said. “My first day on the air was really big. Oh, was that big to finally get a job and be able to support myself! My first day on the air was Feb. 1, 1960. That’s how long I’ve been on the air. So 64 years.”

“And you know what? I’m really tired. So I’m looking forward to not being on the air.”

This marks a significant shift for John Sterling, who has called an astounding 5,631 games since joining the Yankees’ booth in 1989, including an impressive streak of 5,060 consecutive games from 1989 to 2019.

Despite bidding farewell to the microphone, John Sterling expressed continued passion for the game. “I’m not going to miss coming to the ballpark,” John Sterling said. “I’m going to love watching and listening. I really am. I really know what I’m going to do and I’m going to enjoy it.”

“I have the best apartment I’ve ever had across the river in Edgewater,” he added. “I have a beautiful apartment that overlooks the Hudson. I love living there. And I had a fella from Sony put in five screens, including two in my bedroom. Oh, I’m a very lazy person!”

The Yankees added to his collection with an 83-inch LG flat screen TV presented during the pre-game ceremony.  

John Sterling intends to stay connected to the sports world, closely following the Yankees and Mets, along with other games broadcasted on various networks. He also confessed to being a basketball and hockey enthusiast, ensuring his days remain filled with excitement.

When reflecting on his legacy, John Sterling shared a story about Bob Uecker, who famously quipped, “Still working,” when asked about his desired legacy. He hopes to be remembered for his durability. “I was there, game after game, fueled by good health and stamina. That’s what I hope fans remember – my unwavering dedication.”

Of course, fans also cherished his unique home run calls, a tradition that began in the ’90s with his enthusiastic “Burn baby burn!” for Bernie Williams. “It just caught on,” he explained. “Honestly, I never planned on doing it for every player, but I gave it my best shot, and I’m amazed at how popular it became. I feel incredibly fortunate.”

He told about his most favorite home-run calls. “I did say, ‘A-bomb from A-Rod,’ and I did say, ‘Robbie Cano, don’t you know,’” John Sterling said. “I think those are pretty good.”

During John Sterling’s ceremony, love and appreciation were palpable. Fans erupted in cheers, reminiscent of a booming Aaron Judge homer, and chanted his name. The legend, visibly moved, responded with a wave and a heartfelt thank you.

Addressing the crowd, he expressed gratitude for the 36 years he spent with the Yankees, acknowledging the numerous individuals who had shown him kindness, respect, and love throughout that time. John Sterling marveled at the celebration of his career, considering himself incredibly fortunate. He thanked the fans wholeheartedly for their phenomenal support.

John Sterling refuses for one last call request

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John Sterling, the iconic voice of the Yankees for 36 years, opted for a low-key farewell, eschewing a traditional on-air sendoff. The ceremony to honor his career took place at Yankee Stadium on Saturday, prior to the team’s game against the Rays.

Despite having the opportunity to bid adieu on the air, either through a sentimental monologue or a final call, John Sterling respectfully declined offers from both YES Network and radio play-by-play announcers. His reason became evident during his YES Network interview with Michael Kay – his “tank is empty,” as he candidly stated.

Health played a pivotal role in John Sterling’s decision to retire. While he loved calling games, the demands of travel after 64 years in broadcasting finally took their toll.

Speaking with The Post’s Steve Serby, John Sterling revealed a mix of emotions leading up to the ceremony. He confessed to feeling pre-game jitters about making a mistake on the field, but also a sense of pride about his accomplishments. He looked forward to the freedom of not being tied to a rigid schedule and planned to improvise his speech, focusing on his journey from a young Yankees fan to his mid-career transition into broadcasting, expressing immense gratitude for the experience.

John Sterling was adamant to Serby that he wouldn’t be returning to call another Yankees game. “After Saturday’s ceremonies, I’ll go upstairs and say goodbye to the audience with Suzyn,” he stated. “But that’s it. No coming back for one game here or there. It’s time to close the curtain.”

Michael Kay, John Sterling’s radio booth partner from 1992 to 2001, echoed those sentiments during Saturday’s broadcast when questioned by analyst Jeff Nelson. “You had to be on your toes with John,” Kay reminisced. “He could go off on a tangent at any moment, and that’s what made him so unique.”

When Kay offered him a play-by-play chance on YES on Saturday, the legend responded “My tank is empty.”

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