John Sterling Honored by Yankees for 36 Seasons and 5,631 Games as Radio Voice

NEW YORK (AP) — After 36 seasons as the voice of the New York Yankees, John Sterling needed just 90 seconds to say goodbye.

Sterling was honored with an on-field ceremony before Saturday’s 2-0, 10-inning loss to Tampa Bay, five days after the 85-year-old broadcaster announced his retirement 2 1/2 weeks into the season. Flanked by his family, Sterling received gifts that included a jersey with No. 5,631 for his games total, and then addressed the sellout crowd of 47,629.

“What I really want to do is to thank you and I’ll tell you why,” Sterling told the fans, who stood through the tribute. “Person after person, group after group, have come to me with kindness, respect and love, and how lucky can you be for people to celebrate what you do for a living? You know, I had to bring these people up and I had make money to do it. So you, the fans have been phenomenal to me over the past 36 years.”

Bleacher Creatures chanted his name during their first-inning Roll Call.

Sterling, who turns 86 on July 4, explained the unusual timing of his retirement during a news conference before the ceremony, saying it came down to: “I’m really tired, so I’m looking forward to not being on the air.”

“I did it all wrong,” Sterling said. “I should have quit on March 1st or March 15th, but I decided I’d do one exhibition game, which is useless, and you well know, and when we went on that long trip, we went to Houston and Arizona, and, boy, I knew that was it. I didn’t want to work every day — and I told you how long I’ve been working. If you work 64 years and on your next birthday you’re going to be 86. I think it’s time.”

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Sterling called 5,420 regular-season games, the last against Toronto on April 7, plus 211 postseason games. Sterling broadcast 5,060 consecutive games from September 1989 through July 2019 after starting with the Yankees as a pregame host. His partners included Jay Johnstone (1989-90), Joe Angel (1991), Michael Kay (1992-2001), Charley Steiner (2002-04) and Suzyn Waldman (since 2005).

Clips of his most memorable calls were played. Paul O’Neill, Bernie Williams and Derek Jeter gave video tributes, Tino Martinez presented sterling silver Yankees cufflinks and Kay and Waldman an engraved silver microphone. He was given a large-screen television, and Haley Swindal Steinbrenner, granddaughter of late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, handed Sterling the special jersey. The entire Yankees team surrounded Sterling for photos.

His baritone voice booming and frequently punching a fist or two in the air to add emphasis, Sterling explained the origin of his signature, exclamatory home run calls.

“It wasn’t meant that way. I just happened to do something for Bernie Williams. He hit a home run and I said, `Bern, baby, Bern!’ And it kind of mushroomed from there. But it never was intended for every player, because, frankly, I’m not smart enough to do something for every player. But I did the best I could, and it’s amazing what started out as — became so big.”

His favorites?

“I did say `A-bomb from A-Rod!’ when he hit a home run and I did say: `Robbie Cano, don’t you know,’ and I think those were pretty good,” Sterling recalled of his calls for Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Canó.

Sterling was born in 1938, grew up in New York and wanted to be a broadcaster since hearing “The Eddie Bracken Show” in the 1940s.

“I didn’t want to be Eddie Bracken. I wanted to be the guy who says: `Live from Hollywood!’” Sterling remembered. “And I knew that maybe a year or two later, but before puberty I knew I was going to be on the air. And it really helped me because I didn’t worry about school, because I knew what I was going to do. And it was a good thing because I was a terrible student.”

An infrequent visitor to clubhouses, Sterling began his news conference with a reference to Yankees manager Aaron Boone’s daily briefings: “Is this where Boonie says: ‘He’s getting close?’” Sterling quipped.

Speaking earlier, Boone praised Sterling’s “theatrical nature.”

“It’s like he gets in that chair and just shoots life through him,” Boone said. “He’s left quite a mark on this organization (and) the game of baseball.”

Sterling referenced Harry Caray and Bob Uecker, and he cited Mel Allen, Russ Hodges and Jim Karvellas as influences.

Frank Sinatra’s recording of “My Way” was played as Sterling walked back stiffly to the Yankees dugout.

Sterling could wind up being honored in Monument Park, where plaques commemorate Mel Allen, a broadcaster from 1938-64, and Bob Sheppard, the public address announcer from 1951-2007.

“If they say to you we’re going to put a plaque up in Monument Park, you wouldn’t say, `Oh, no, don’t do that,'” Sterling said. “Well, if it happens, it happens.”

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