After 5,631 Yankees Games, John Sterling Calls His Own Walk-Off – US 247 News


John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman had that special sort of radio relationship where they would often finish each other’s sentences, or more precisely, each other’s lyrics. They might have been announcing Yankees games, but that would not prevent them from dipping into musical theater, a passion for both of them.

“It’s something sort of grandish,” Sterling might say on the air, using one of his signature phrases to describe a great play by former outfielder Curtis Granderson, or perhaps it was a reference to a grand slam someone had hit.

Right on cue, without any rehearsal other than decades as friends and colleagues, Waldman would add, “Sweeps my soul when thou art near,” reciting the next line of the song from “Finian’s Rainbow.”

Sterling and Waldman formed one of the most unusual relationships in sports broadcasting history, but it ended abruptly on Monday when Sterling retired, effective immediately. “I just don’t want to do any more work,” he said Monday on WFAN. “I’ve worked for 64 years, and in July I’ll be 86, so let’s face it, my time has come.”

He had announced 5,420 regular season and 211 postseason Yankees games on radio since 1989. With his silky baritone, singsong inflections and signature home-run call — “It is high! It is far! It is gone!” — Sterling became a fixture on the airwaves, bringing his earnest and schticky boosterism to generations of Yankee fans.

“He is an original, and there will never be another like him,” Waldman said on Tuesday.

Sterling’s last 20 years were spent alongside Waldman, whom he met in 1987 at WFAN. They became fast friends, as much for their love of sports as Broadway. When former Yankee owner George Steinbrenner suggested hiring Waldman as the first woman to do color commentating on regular baseball broadcasts, Sterling endorsed the pioneering move.

“He always gave me space to tell my stories and be emotional like he is,” Waldman said. “It worked out very well.”

Sterling became synonymous with the Yankees, the most famous team in baseball, which in some ways was an odd connection. The Yankees have long been known for their button-down, pinstriped formalism. Players can’t even have facial hair. Yet there were Sterling and Waldman in the booth, reciting songs from “Kiss Me Kate.”

But sports, like musical theater, is about entertainment, and Sterling was always entertaining.

“He’s a character in the truest sense of the word,” said Howie Rose, the Mets radio announcer and a friend of Sterling’s for almost 50 years, “and I say that lovingly.”

Sterling would punch the air when he shouted out: “The Yankees win. Thaaaaaaaaa Yankees win.” And his home run call became so automatic that there were a few occasions when he had to issue a quick correction. But that was part of the show.

He also personalized each player’s home run call. For Aaron Judge it was: “All Rise. “Here comes the Judge.” When Bernie Williams went deep, he would growl, “Bern, baby, Bern,” and an Alex Rodriguez blast was an “A-bomb from A-Rod.” Granderson’s shots elicited the chorus “The Grandy Man Can!” When the Yankees acquired a new player, fans would try to predict the call, but Sterling usually came up with something different, something completely surprising. The early home run call for Giancarlo Stanton was in Italian: “Giancarlo, don’t stop it!”

Sterling also did the play-by-play for the Baltimore Bullets, the New York Nets, the Atlanta Hawks, the Atlanta Braves and the New York Islanders, where he was known for yelling, “Islander goal! Islander goal!” when the team scored. Rose noted that before “Islander goal,” there was “Raider goal,” Sterling’s signature call for the World Hockey Association’s team in New York.

“When you heard that, it was a little unexpected, and you knew he was not going to be a by-the-book type of broadcaster,” Rose said. “He was going to do it his own way, and he always did.”

One of the many famous games that Sterling announced was Larry Bird’s 60-point performance against the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks, in 1985. Mike Fratello was the coach of the Hawks at the time and recalled how Sterling was practically part of the team. He might play in pickup games with players or coaches, and was particularly known for tennis.

“I loved watching that,” Fratello said on Tuesday. “If he made a bad shot, he would walk to the back wall and tell the wall all about it. “I spent half the time reading the wall.”

A native of Hackensack, NJ, Fratello grew up listening to Red Barber, Mel Allen and Phil Rizzuto, all legendary radio broadcasters. Sterling, he insists, belongs in that pantheon.

“He is a part of the Yankees,” Fratello said, “That says it all, right?”

And it was not just about his longevity. It was his flair and showmanship, much like a performer on Broadway.

“I always thought baseball was musical,” Waldman said, “and then I met John, and it really was musical.”

It was more than just that. It was great.