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After decades of calling baseball games, radio broadcaster John Sterling has retired

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

New York Yankees fans are saying goodbye to a legend. Famed baseball radio broadcaster John Sterling has retired, ending 36 years calling games for the club. Over the weekend, the team and fans gave him a big sendoff. Reporter Gwynne Hogan takes a look back at his decades in the booth.

GWYNNE HOGAN, BYLINE: For generations of Yankees fans, Sterling's voice was the soundtrack for memorable and dramatic moments...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN STERLING: And the Yankees, on the precipice of defeat, tie the game at three.

HOGAN: ...And historic performances by some of the sport's finest players.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STERLING: Derek Jeter homers to tie the game. And there it is, hit No. 3,000.

HOGAN: Throughout his career, Sterling has been a New York fixture - the voice crackling from transistor radios on city parks and beaches, the background noise on countless family road trips. Sterling retired abruptly earlier this month, saying at age 85 he was ready for a break. He admitted with characteristic candor...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STERLING: I'm not going to miss coming to the ballpark.

HOGAN: He spoke to reporters before Saturday's game.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STERLING: And you know what? I'm really tired (laughter), so I'm looking forward to not being on the air.

HOGAN: For any true baseball fan, the announcer is just as important as the team's players - a trusted friend there for the highs and lows. Outside the stadium this weekend, 72-year-old Bob Benish recalled Sterling's infectious zeal for the game.

BOB BENISH: And I think it's a combination of skill as well as passion. I don't know who is going to be able to fill his shoes.

HOGAN: Even though Sterling has retired, for 27-year-old William Thomas, he'll always be part of the Yankee family.

WILLIAM THOMAS: He'll forever be, like, the radio voice for me. It'll stick with me forever.

HOGAN: Fifty-nine-year-old Maureen Newlove says she'll never forget Sterling's classic home run call.

MAUREEN NEWLOVE: (Imitating John Sterling) It is high. It is far. It is gone.

HOGAN: And even for non-baseball fans, it's easy to appreciate Sterling's lilting cadence, injecting this traditional American pastime with his own personal flair and his love of Broadway.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STERLING: (Singing) The sun will come out, Tanaka. Bet your bottom dollar with Tanaka, the sun will shine.

Anyway, Tanaka...

HOGAN: Even admirers concede his personalized home run calls for every Yankees player could be corny at times, and he occasionally missed the mark.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STERLING: That ball is high. It is far. It is gone - but caught. Boy, I thought that was gone.

HOGAN: But for the diehards, that was all part of Sterling's charm. Ryan Chichester writes for the sports station WFAN and grew up listening to Sterling.

RYAN CHICHESTER: Only someone like John could make those mistakes into, like, an endearing way where people can just, like, kind of chuckle and move on.

HOGAN: For the past two decades, Sterling shared the air with his steadfast co-broadcaster, Suzyn Waldman.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SUZYN WALDMAN: Stepping up to the microphone once again is the voice of the New York Yankees. Here is John Sterling.

STERLING: Well, Suzyn, I thank you.

HOGAN: Waldman says calling games without Sterling won't be the same.

WALDMAN: 'Cause I don't think that particular kind of partnership comes around more than once. But he went out on his terms, which is the most important thing of all.

HOGAN: Sterling was honored at the start of Saturday's game, and fans erupted in spontaneous chants of his name.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) John Sterling, John Sterling.

HOGAN: Sterling thanked them, and they'll remember him, too, for the countless times he delivered these three euphoric words...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STERLING: (Shouting) The Yankees win.

HOGAN: The voice of the Yankees for so many years signing off. For NPR News, I'm Gwynne Hogan in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF LANA DEL REY SONG, "NATIONAL ANTHEM") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Gwynne Hogan
[Copyright 2024 WBFO-FM 88.7]
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