John Sterling, a ‘Goliath’ of Baseball Broadcasting, Retires as the Voice of the Yankees

For more than 30 summers, his baritone told the tale of pinstripe triumph and heartbreak.

AP /Bill Kostroun
New York Yankees broadcaster John Sterling sits in his booth before a baseball game against the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium, September 25, 2009. AP /Bill Kostroun

The imminent retirement of “the voice of the New York Yankees,” John Sterling, marks the end of one of the most storied careers in American broadcasting — not to mention baseball. While Mr. Sterling’s voice yet boomed, the 85-year-old faces health issues. He has called 5,420 regular-season games for the Yankees, and  211 postseason ones. Between 1989 and 2016, he called 5,060 games in a row. Call him the Cal Ripken Jr. of the broadcast booth.

His broadcast partner since 2005, Suzyn Waldman, declares that after Mr. Sterling is gone, “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.” For nearly as long as this Yankee fan has been alive, Mr. Sterling’s chestnuts were the lyrics of a baseball dynasty risen and fallen. “Theeeeeee Yankees win” sent many pinstripe partisans happily to bed. His voice was rich and beguiling.

Mr. Sterling’s home run catch-phrases could inspire or irritate. “Burn, baby, burn,” for centerfielder Bernie Williams, conveyed the competitive fire beneath the player’s placid exterior. “Robby Cano — dontcha know,” for the second baseman Robinson Cano, captured a folksy delight at the infielder’s prowess with the bat. For the slugger Aaron Judge, there was, “All rise! Here comes the Judge.” The “Giambino,” for Jason Giambi, was a play on “Bambino.”

Mr. Sterling’s rhyming and alliteration marked him as an American poet of the spoken vernacular and a ballpark bard. “It is high, it is far, it is gone” conveyed the rising excitement precipitated by a ball launched into summer nights. Occasionally, those balls were caught, and the trailing disappointment in his voice appeared to capture the universal sadness of confounded expectations. Yet he would call five World Series titles for the Bronx Bombers.

The announcer’s baritone could take a bemused tone, as when he would note some oddity or improbability of the sport with the reflection to his broadcast partner, “That’s baseball, Suzyn.” It was a pleasurably resigned expression of epistemic humility, a Bronx version of Hamlet’s reminder to his friend: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Mr. Sterling knew a lot, but he didn’t know it all. 

Mr. Sterling — a Jewish boy born John Sloss from the Upper East Side — spent 60 years in broadcast booths. In addition to his job with the Yankees, the announcer called games for the  Atlanta Hawks and the New York Islanders. He wore a suit to Yankee Stadium for every game, though his audience would never see it. He could be silly, though — his call, “It’s a back to back … and a belly to belly,” captured the delight of consecutive home runs.

Mr. Sterling — whom the Yankees praise for his “orotund” voice and laud as a “goliath” of broadcasting — will be honored at a ceremony on Saturday. In a statement, Mr. Sterling reflects, “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.” 

The New York Sun

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