John Sterling keen to ring the bell at farewell, colleagues recount days with the legend

Former Yankees voice and legendary sportscaster John Sterling
Michael Bennington
Saturday April 20, 2024

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Friday afternoon offered a glimpse into the emotions surrounding John Sterling‘s impending retirement. His phone buzzed incessantly, eventually leading to a voicemail greeting. But amidst the impersonal message, the unmistakable booming voice of the recently retired Yankees announcer reverberated: “HELLO, HELLO, HELLO!”

This playful moment encapsulates John Sterling’s infectious energy, even as he prepared for a bittersweet farewell. On the eve of his long-awaited sendoff, a mix of excitement and nostalgia permeated the air.

After an incredible 36-year tenure calling Yankees games, John Sterling stunned fans with his sudden retirement announcement last Monday. To honor his iconic career, the 85-year-old broadcasting legend will be celebrated in a pre-game ceremony at Yankee Stadium on Saturday before the 1:05 p.m. game against the Tampa Bay Rays. Former broadcast booth partners, Michael Kay and Suzyn Waldman will join him for this special occasion.

In a brief interview with NJ Advance Media, John Sterling couldn’t conceal his eagerness for the ceremony. He acknowledged the weight of the day, understanding that his regular presence in the booth might soon become a cherished memory.

“Actually, I’m very happy about it and I can’t wait for it to happen,” he told. “I have to get through tomorrow … and then after tomorrow I’m yesterday’s news!”

However, John Sterling’s impact on Yankees baseball will never fade. He’ll forever be enshrined among the team’s broadcasting royalty, alongside legendary voices like Mel Allen, Red Barber, Phil Rizzuto, Bill White, Bobby Murcer, and others. His signature calls and energetic style will continue to resonate with fans for years to come.

Boone wants a monumental place for John Sterling

Aaron Boone, manager of the New York Yankees
Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire

Yankees manager Aaron Boone is brimming with excitement for Saturday’s pre-game ceremony honoring John Sterling, which kicks off at 12:30 PM. 

“This is going to be a truly momentous occasion,” Boone declared. He acknowledged the profound sentimental value attached to listening to Yankees games on the radio, highlighting John’s impact as the voice of a generation for countless fans.

Boone expressed his admiration for John Sterling’s unique qualities: his resonating voice, iconic calls, and the dramatic flair he brought to the broadcast booth. “There’s no one quite like him,” Boone admitted, “and I’m definitely going to miss hearing those signature elements on game days.”

Beyond celebrating John Sterling’s lengthy career, Boone emphasized the significance of the occasion. “We’re talking about someone who’s been a titan in this industry for decades,” he said. “I can’t wait to see John out there on Saturday.”

Discussions have also taken place within the team regarding further ways to honor Sterling’s legacy. Boone revealed a personal proposition: replicating Sterling’s iconic “The Yankeeeees win!” call after victories at Yankee Stadium.

“It’s an excellent idea,” Boone remarked, intrigued by the possibility of integrating this legendary call into the post-game celebration. He envisioned it preceding Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York,” creating a truly special moment for fans in the Bronx.

“That would be quite remarkable,” Boone concluded, clearly endorsing the idea of honoring John Sterling’s legacy with this signature call.

Waldman and Sterling: A chemistry from day one

Corey Sipkin/New York Daily News

Suzyn Waldman’s memory vividly recalls the day she first encountered John Sterling, a moment that would spark a long and cherished partnership.

The year was 1987, the dawn of WFAN, the world’s first 24-hour sports radio station. Waldman, then a news anchor for the afternoon show, originally co-hosted by Pete Franklin. However, Franklin’s sudden absence due to a heart attack necessitated a revolving door of guest hosts.

One fateful Monday, John Sterling stepped up to the plate, taking the reins of the show. What struck Waldman most wasn’t what he said, but how he said it. Instead of settling comfortably behind the microphone, the legend stood tall, gripping it firmly. With his right hand cupped over his ear, he orchestrated the entire four-hour program in this unique, animated fashion.

“He was such an intriguing character,” Waldman reminisced, a hint of amusement in her voice.

The spark between them was undeniable. “We shared a similar language,” Waldman continued, “references to the same sports moments, the same Broadway shows.”

Today, few boast a closer connection to John Sterling than Waldman. The news of his retirement, announced earlier this week, brought a wave of bittersweet emotions. For two decades, they’d shared the Yankees broadcast booth, Waldman as the analyst, their bond transcending the professional sphere.

A pioneer for women in sports broadcasting, Waldman had been subtly preparing for this day for a while. John Sterling’s 36-year reign as the Yankees’ play-by-play announcer, a tenure graced by five World Series victories, countless electrifying home run calls, and his signature victory proclamation – “Thaaaaa Yankees win!” – was coming to an end.

Despite the forewarning, the news hit her hard. “Nothing will ever be quite the same,” she admitted with a touch of sadness.

This Saturday afternoon, Yankee Stadium will host a pre-game ceremony to honor John Sterling’s legacy. 

Michael Kay yet to recover from John Sterling’s retirement

John Sterling and Michael Kay at Yankee Stadium on April 7, 2024.

John Sterling’s quirks and endearing habits were legendary among his broadcast colleagues. One such well-known trait was his love of sleep, particularly on road trips. So, when Michael Kay, his radio partner for a decade before moving to TV, spotted him in the lobby of The Westin Seattle in the mid-90s, it was a double surprise. There stood John Sterling, usually a late riser, uncharacteristically decked out in a full tracksuit, a bouquet of three dozen roses clutched in his hand, hurrying across the lobby with an air of purpose.

“John,” Kay inquired, curiosity piqued, “what’s going on?”

John Sterling, without a beat, beamed and revealed the reason for his unusual attire and haste. “Met the girl I’m going to marry, my boy!” he declared.

This chance encounter marked the beginning of a new chapter for John Sterling. He was on his way to meet his future wife, Jennifer. They would go on to share 12 years of marriage and build a family, welcoming four children together.

Another anecdote that exemplifies John Sterling’s dedication, albeit unconventional, unfolded during Game 2 of the 2000 American League Championship Series against the Seattle Mariners. Earlier that day, a momentous event had taken place – Sterling had been present at the hospital for the birth of his triplets, two girls and a boy. Despite the life-changing event, the Yankees emerged victorious that night with a 7-1 win. Following the game, the team boarded their charter flight bound for Washington for the next leg of the series.

Onboard the plane, Scott Brosius, the Yankees’ third baseman, spotted John Sterling and couldn’t help but express his confusion. “John,” he asked, “weren’t you just at the hospital with your newborn triplets? Why are you here?”

John Sterling, ever the dedicated broadcaster, simply shrugged his shoulders and offered a practical response. “There’s nothing more I can do at this point,” he remarked, highlighting his commitment to his work while acknowledging the extraordinary personal event he had just witnessed.

Judge reflects on Sterling’s legacy

The player of the new york yankees, aaron judge

Aaron Judge vividly recalls the exhilarating moment of his debut at-bat in the major leagues on August 13th, 2016. With his parents, Wayne and Patty, cheering from the stands, Judge smashed a solo home run, a mammoth shot estimated at 416 feet that vanished into the center field batter’s eye.

While the memory remains vivid for Judge, his father, Wayne, took it a step further. “I know Dad replayed it over and over again” on YouTube, Judge revealed. Each time, it was John Sterling’s legendary call of the home run that accompanied the highlight.

“My parents are huge fans of the radio broadcasts,” Judge explained. “They love listening to Suzyn and John exchange banter, and they even revisit some of the iconic home runs and pivotal moments in Yankees history.” Reflecting on Sterling’s retirement, Judge acknowledged, “He’ll definitely be missed.”

Beyond his parents’ enjoyment, Judge also emphasized how John Sterling’s home run calls sparked entertainment and friendly competition within the Yankees clubhouse. “Whenever a new player joined the team,” Judge said, “we’d all have a blast trying to anticipate what kind of call John would come up with for their home runs.”

Judge fondly recalled the camaraderie among teammates. “He was incredibly witty and inventive,” he remarked, referring to John Sterling’s knack for crafting distinctive home run calls. “We could never predict what he’d say.”

“John always had us beat,” Judge admitted with a hint of admiration. “He’d deliver something fantastic that the fans adored, and it resonated with us players too. He’s truly a part of the Yankees family.”

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