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The Melodic Influence of John Sterling on My Journey

I have had the opportunity to listen to John Sterling’s voice more frequently than anyone else’s in the world, possibly even more than my parents. For three hours a day, on most days spanning from April to October, every year since I embraced baseball fandom. This consistent exposure tends to deeply influence a fan, embedding itself in their psyche to the extent that objectivity becomes a challenge. It serves as a soothing presence. Sterling’s voice signifies the arrival of spring for me, akin to the appearance of a groundhog or crocus, heralding the forthcoming warmth. It accompanies me through the summers, providing a steady bass note during the sweltering dog days. It narrates my autumns, delivering the final verdict of either heartbreak, plunging into the cold abyss, or jubilation, resembling the culmination of a shared voyage. Many of the happiest moments in my life were first conveyed to me by John Sterling.

The contemplation of his retirement is almost unfathomable to me. Retire? How could he retire? How could the Yankees continue without John Sterling? Such thoughts may seem irrational. The Yankees existed before Sterling and will persist after him. However, I must accept this on faith, as I have never known the Yankees without his voice.

Sterling’s illustrious career in professional sports broadcasting spanned over 50 years, encompassing teams that were both unexpected and defunct: the Atlanta Hawks and Braves, the Baltimore Bullets, the New York Raiders, the New York Stars, the Nets, and the Islanders. The life of a broadcaster is inherently nomadic, especially in the initial stages. Yet, it was his tenure with the Yankees that endured. Sterling called 5,631 Yankees games, including over 200 playoff matches and five World Series triumphs, from 1989 until his abrupt retirement announcement on Monday. He asserts that it is not due to health concerns, rather attributing it to his age of 85 and prolonged contemplation, expressing a wish that he had retired earlier in the winter. If this moment was inevitable in his mind, I always envisioned him collapsing at the microphone, perhaps succumbing during a particularly melodramatic victory.

My keen interest in baseball began in 1992, during Sterling’s fourth year as the team’s announcer (and his initial partnership with Michael Kay, a collaboration that endured for a fruitful decade, appearing to a young fan devoid of historical context as a permanent fixture, and a destabilizing shock when it dissolved; to provide perspective, he nearly doubled the duration of that partnership with Suzyn Waldman). I admired his pronunciation of names like Velarde, Stankiewicz, Kamieniecki, Monteleone. At that time, I had not fully grasped the team’s struggles and history of failures. Yet, I sensed Sterling’s escalating enthusiasm as a new generation of players emerged and excelled. He narrated the entire careers of Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, and others as bedtime stories, spanning three hours every night. When the Yankees—whom I had grown fervently attached to—finally clinched victory, our television volume was muted, and the radio volume amplified, allowing us to experience the conclusion of the game akin to how we had followed the others.

Persisting in the same role for an extended period carries the risk of becoming a caricature. Sterling, however, did not view this as a negative—he embraced it. He referred to it as a performance, entertaining his audience. They craved the signature calls for every player donning the pinstripes. It injected a touch of whimsy into moments of triumph, transitioning from enjoyable to slightly cheesy, yet he committed to the act so wholeheartedly that it circled back to being enjoyable. I cannot hear Bernie Williams’s name without recalling “Bern, baby, Bern,” or Kyle Higashioka’s without envisioning him as “the home run stroka,” or, despite my reservations, Nick Swisher’s without mentally echoing “Swishalicious!” He seized any opportunity to belt out a few bars from Broadway tunes and recognized the influence of a catchy catchphrase. “It is high, it is far, it is gone”—indeed, the epitome of a home run. “The Yankees win”—a concise statement of fact transformed into a slogan, as Sterling demonstrated the art of elongating the “the.” The length of that “the” and the inflection of “win” indicated his genuine excitement or lack thereof about a game.

While Sterling may have slightly declined in his later years—exemplified by a few missed “home runs”—this is a natural progression in any career, whether athletic or in broadcasting. We tend to reminisce about the prime moments and ride on those positive memories through the decline, until the realization dawns, often belatedly, that they can no longer continue or no longer desire to. Growing up necessitates bidding farewell. “I’ve been on the air since Feb. 1, 1960 and I’m tired,”

I too felt weary, recalling a vivid yet vaguely dated childhood memory associated with John Sterling. A late West Coast game. The red glow of my clock radio in the dimness. School awaited the next day, a prospect I dreaded, so I resisted sleep. Lying in bed, beneath my blankets, tuning the radio to a low volume to evade my parents’ notice. Struggling to remain awake. Sterling keeping me company.

Another memory unfolds: On the fire escape. Absence of air conditioning, one of those humid Manhattan summer nights where the air feels as heavy as split-pea soup, laden with humidity. The external environment offers marginal relief—devoid of any breeze—but it is marginally preferable. I bring out my portable radio. Game on. Sterling keeping me company.

This, I believe, exemplifies the role of a proficient announcer, particularly in baseball. They serve as a steadfast companion, surpassing the constancy of any friend—accompanying you through the highs and lows, ever-present. They narrate your joys, aspirations, and setbacks. They serve as your gateway to fandom and encapsulate the essence of your cherished memories. And memories do not retire.

“Nothing will ever be the same. It can’t be,” yesterday. “Life goes on and we all go on but nothing else will be the same.”

That’s baseball, Suzyn.