New York Yankees’ John Sterling Lasting Test Of Time As Club’s Voice
I'm a fan of John Sterling.
Long before Sterling began his 33-season (and counting) tenure as the lead radio voice of the New York Yankees in 1989, I was following his career. His well known calls of "Ball game over. Yankees win. Theeeee Yankees win", or when a Bronx Bomber has slugged a home run, and listeners along the Yankees' radio network are treated to - "It is high. It is far. It is gone", I could pick out Sterling voice out of a line up of sportscasters with one ear tied behind my back.
I have always had an affinity for baseball radio broadcasters. Over the years I have listened to and have had the pleasure of meeting some of the best in the business. I remember the days when radio talkers also were required to slide over to the TV side of the game's broadcast, and put in a few inning for viewers. Frank Messer of the Yankees and Ralph Kiner with the Mets were two of my favorites.
You see, my appreciation of Sterling goes way back to my youth growing up in New York City. It was in the spring of 1972, as a 13-year-old budding sports-crazed fan, I tuned my Westinghouse transistor radio to 570 on the AM dial - to WMCA. Sterling had just joined the all-talk station serving the metropolitan area as their resident sports talk show host.
Greg Fillmore of the NBA's New York Knicks was Sterling's guest this evening. The little used center was completing his second (and final) season of his pro career. This was a first for me - someone talking sports on the radio, and inviting listeners to join in the conversation. WMCA labeled their format as "Dial-Log" Radio. So, I dialed and went on the air.
I was hooked, and became a loyal listener to Sterling.
Next up, meeting the man in person - multiple times. A new professional hockey league came to fruition in the fall of 1972 - the World Hockey Association. Now, the established NHL, and it's New York tenant at Madison Square garden - the Rangers, had competition. The WHA's entry was the New York Raiders.
Ticket prices for seats in the upper level, or "Blue Seats" in the Garden, were as low as $3.00. For a 13-year-old, not only was this affordable, me, my brother Billy, and our friends now would have a new place to hang out. WMCA would air 34 home contests and 15 road affairs. With Sterling handling play-by-play duties, his color man was Yankees pitcher Fritz Peterson.
With small crowds for most home games, with the exception for when ex-NHLers Gordie Howe or Bobby Hull would make the trip with their new teams to the Garden, moving down to the "Red Seats" (as far down as one could get to ice level), our bunch would slip an usher $2.00 each, and he "found" us prime seats near the benches.
Being amongst the best seats in the Garden, I found by accident the broadcast table. There was no WMCA banner. What I did see was two men in suits talking into microphones. Once I digested what I was viewing, I then realized who I was seeing - it was the "Man" himself. Now, I had a face to the voice.
After double-checking the picture in the Raiders program, to be sure who I was within arms distance to is in fact Sterling, I would soon become a lurking shadow for the remainder of the season to him.
This would be the only season that Sterling would be associated with the team, or league. My next face-to-face with Sterling would be in 1984, in Cooperstown. I was working as the stage manager for the live telecast by SuperStation WTBS of the Atlanta Braves - Detroit Tigers game. Before the annual Hall of Fame Game began, Sterling, who was a member of the Braves' TV announcing team, walked past me, while checking out the dimensions of Doubleday Field.
I couldn't resist, to catch his attention, out of my mouth comes - "Raider Goal. Raider Goal."
It worked. Sterling stopped dead in his tracks, and turned towards me. He uttered some compliments about that time in his career. I reminded him of my constant requesting his autograph next to his picture in the Raiders program during that magical season as a 13-year-old. He was pleasant, complimentary, and initiated a handshake. To me, that brief reconnection with my youth and radio friend was worth more than the $75.00 check that I would receive from Turner Broadcasting later that day.
From calling Raider games, to taking calls nightly on his program (WMCA became a full-time talk radio format in 1970), to listening to him be the lead voice for New York Islanders broadcasts (1975-'80) and New York Nets' ABA games (including the 1974 season when the Nets won the ABA championship over the Utah Stars), I was an unofficial card-carrying fan of Sterling's.
Since joining the Yankees, at one point, Sterling called more than 5,000 consecutive games (1989-2019). Like so many others, I watch Sterling host YES Network's Yankeeography; where specific players and others associated with the Yankees are profiled. But, it was, is, and always will be Sterling's radio work that keeps me favoring the talk medium over television.
Over the years, Sterling has been criticized, or perhaps even bombarded at times, for his work rate. Some say his calls at times are inaccurate. To me, now at 83-years-old, Sterling is golden behind the microphone. I don't want to dig to deep into his work, digesting the basic facts are fine with me. He and his radio partner since 2005 Suzyn Waldman deliver to me what I need and entertain me, even if sometimes they don't try to.
Born John Sloss, professionally speaking , to me, Sterling will always be golden as a radio talker.
Don Laible is a freelance sportswriter from the Mohawk Valley, now living in Florida. He has reported on professional baseball and hockey for print, radio, and on the web since the 1980's. His columns are featured weekly at WIBX950.com. Don can be contacted via email at Don@icechipsdiamonddust.com.