John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman, the New York Yankees’ radio broadcasters, are known for their head-scratching asides, mixing baseball play-by-plays with references to Broadway musicals and sometimes forgetting to mention the score of the game for half an inning at a time (which is nothing new to fans who remember the days of Phil “Scooter” Rizzuto’s restaurant reviews and recipes from his “bride,” Cora.)
Sterling, with his over-the-top, Tarzan-like home run calls – “The Yankees win. THAAAAAAAAH Yankees win” – and seemingly fading eyesight, and Waldman, with her distinct New England accent and unabashed “oh-my-goodness-gracious” rooting for the home team, are regular topics on snarky New York sports’ talk shows and easy targets for opposing teams’ fans looking to discredit anything Yankees-related.
With their contracts expiring this fall and the Yanks set to move in 2014 from CBS 880AM to WFAN 660AM/101.9FM, this duo’s place on the New York airwaves is still all but secured because of the fans who listen to their broadcasts with a mix of embarrassment and affection. Sterling and Waldman have attained the status usually reserved for a quirky aunt and uncle who wear socks with sandals, tell bad jokes and repeat the same stories over and over.
They are a strange pair, but they are our strange pair. Sure, they aren’t perfect or by the book, but their voices, like those that have come before them, are as much a part of the Yankees’ experience as the pinstripes on the home uniform. They are like family, and for better or worse, expect them to return next year with a whole roster of catchphrases – to match a whole new roster.
Sterling was hired in 1989 and hasn’t missed a day of work since. He quickly became known in New York and beyond for his pun-laden, groan-inducing home run calls. “Bern, baby, Bern” for Bernie Williams, “a thrilla by Godzilla” for Hideki Matsui and “Justice is served” for David Justice were among his silliest, while “You’re on the mark, Texeira” for Mark Texeira, “Robinson Cano: Doncha know?” and “An A-Bomb from A-Rod” were some of the more cringe-worthy. Nonetheless, it’s become a bit of a game for fans to guess what the call will be for new roster members. (Here’s hoping, Oakland A’s outfielder Coco Crisp doesn’t end up on the Yankees roster any time soon).
Sterling and his broadcast compagnera Waldman, who joined the team in 2005, will likely be the voices of Yankees radio for as long as they want to be. And when all is said and done, they will be remembered as some of the most memorable voices in Yankees history – though it’s hard to top Scooter’s Felix Ungerish discussion of flying, bugs and traffic on the GW Bridge.
Yankees’ voices over the years
Voice: Mel Allen
Where you heard him: Radio, 1939-1942, radio and television, 1946-1964. Cable television 1978-1985.
Maybe you hadn’t heard: Mel Allen, known as “The Voice of the Yankees,” was one of the first people inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame’s broadcaster’s wing, in 1978.
Memorable catchphrase: “How about that.”
Signature call: “There it is. There it is. If it stays fair, there it is – No. 60.” (On Sept. 26, 1961, Roger Maris ties Babe Ruth’s then-record 60 home runs for a season. Maris would go on to break the record, with 61 home runs, a mark that stood until 1998.)
Voice: Phil Rizzuto
Where you heard him: Radio and television, 1957-1996
Maybe you hadn’t heard: In his later years, Rizzuto, also remembered for his Money Store commercials, often left games in the seventh inning to beat traffic home to New Jersey over the George Washington Bridge.
Memorable catchphrase: “Holy cow.”
Signature call: “And here’s one ripped to right-center. They’re not gonna get this ball. Oh boy, I better shut up.” (Rizzuto overestimates a Wade Boggs fly-out in the early 1990s.)
Voice: Michael Kay
Where you heard him: Radio and television, 1992-Present.
Maybe you hadn’t heard: Kay’s best buddy as a student at Fordham University was Mike Breen, now the broadcaster for the New York Knicks. Kay has said the two shared with each other their dreams of broadcasting for their favorite sports teams.
Memorable catchphrase: “See ya.”
Signature call: “The greatest closer in history now has the most saves in history…He stands alone atop the closer mountain.” (Mariano Rivera saves his 602nd game, against the Twins on Sept. 19, 2011, becoming the all-time career saves leader.)
Voice: Bob Sheppard
Where you heard him: Yankee Stadium, 1951-2007.
Maybe you hadn’t heard: “The Voice of Yankee Stadium,” called by Reggie Jackson “The Voice of God,” was also the voice of the New York Football Giants as that team’s public address announcer from 1956 to 2006.
Memorable catchphrase: “Good afternoon, ladies and gentleman and welcome to Yankee Stadium.”
Signature call: “Now batting for the Yankees, No. 2, Derek Jeter.” Although Sheppard retired in 2007 and died in 2010, a recording of his voice introduces every home at-bat of Yankees’ captain Derek Jeter to this day.
Follow Mark Lungariello on Twitter, @marklungariello.