LEGEND RETIRES: Guy Benson Gives Touching Tribute to Yankees Broadcasting Great John Sterling

Today on the Guy Benson Show, Guy shared the news of the retirement of John Sterling, the legendary radio voice of the New York Yankees. Sterling served as the radio voice of the team for over 5,000 Yankee games since 1989. Guy discusses why Sterling was fundamental to growing his passion for radio in the full written and audio tribute below.

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Guy had this to say on Yankee legend John Sterling:

I’ll never forget the time John Sterling left me a voicemail.

In elementary school, my family moved back to the United States from overseas, and even though I was born and raised as an American, I’d spent relatively little time in my home country until that point.  As I adjusted to my new life and school in northern New Jersey, I became a diehard Yankees fan.  At first, it was to fit in — but after my dad took me to my first game at the Stadium, I was truly hooked.  My parents didn’t let us have cable growing up (ironic in retrospect, given my current line of work), so unless they were playing in a nationally-televised game, or on channel 11, I followed the Yankees on the radio.  Back then, the play-by-play pairing featured John Sterling and Michael Kay, two talented broadcasters with distinct voices and styles.  I listened to those games for countless hours.  Somewhere along the line, it dawned on me that these guys were paid — a lot! — to describe baseball games to large numbers of fans.  It instantly became my dream job and career goal; one that I pursued until my on-air work took a permanent turn toward news and politics, after college.

Shortly after establishing that professional ambition, I wrote a letter to Sterling, seeking advice and “networking,” as imagined in the mind of a ten-year-old boy.  Some time later, I came home from school one day, and my mom met me with a twinkle in her eye.  There was something I needed to hear, she said.  She hit ‘play’ on our answering machine (the messages would play out loud from a speaker in the ’90s), and my eyes widened as I listened.  “This is John Sterling,” a deep, unmistakable voice rumbled.  He’d actually called me.  I can barely remember what he said, other than to offer some encouragement and thank me for listening. I was thrilled.  I listened to the message repeatedly, and played it back for my friends.

The next year, 1996, the Yankees won the World Series, which they hadn’t done since the late 1970s.  During that magical playoff run, they beat Baltimore in the ALCS.  In game one of that series, which featured a memorable dash of controversy, centerfielder Bernie Williams hit a walkoff homerun into the left field seats in the bottom of the 11th inning to give the Yankees a 1-0 series lead.  Sterling’s call of that swing became my favorite of all time.  He bellowed, “driven to deep left!  It is high, it is far, it…is gone!  Yankees win!  Thuuuuuhhh Yankees win!”  The electricity in his voice remains goosebump-inducing.  I recorded that postgame highlight off of the boombox in our kitchen, brought the cassette tape into school the next morning, and convinced the adults to let me play it over the PA system during morning announcements.  That still makes me smile.

By 2002, I was a high school intern at Fox News Channel for the summer.  Host Brian Kilmeade (for whom I recently filled in on Fox & Friends, surreally) was filming some sort of package up at Yankee Stadium one day, and I managed to wrangle my way onto the production team.  When my official duties were over, the crew left, but I had a single-day press pass — pure gold — and the Yankees had a home game that night.  I stayed for the game, of course, and hung around in the press box, taking it all in.  I eventually worked up the nerve to introduce myself to Sterling, who invited me to sit in the narrow radio booth for as long as I’d like, perched behind him and his partner that season, Charlie Steiner.  The game was tied after nine, and marched into one extra inning after another.  My dad agreed to come pick me up whenever the game was over.  Hours later, it finally ended.  I don’t even remember who won (probably a loss, if that’s the case), but I do remember taking a photo with Sterling in the booth, on the disposable camera I’d brought along with me.  When the film was developed, I was sweaty and beaming.  Sterling looked exhausted after calling something like 17 innings of baseball.  That photo still exists, somewhere.

The next year, my best friend from home (Dan D’Uva, now an NHL broadcaster) and I were both doing some intern-style grunt work for the fledgling YES Network, which brought me back to the Cathedral of Baseball in the Bronx on multiple occasions.  We had also persuaded the management at the Cape Cod Baseball League’s Chatham A’s to let us become their inaugural broadcasters, offering radio-style play-by-play for their summer league team, available online or via a 1-800 number.  We called those games together for four summers.  Through various means, we were able to get a number of our idols — sportscasters with major profiles — to record short promos or ‘drops’ for our broadcasts.  Quite a few big names were kind enough to indulge us, from Joe Buck, to Jim Nantz, to Kenny Mayne, to Ian Eagle, among others.  But the one I was most excited about — other than a recording by legendary Yankee Stadium public address announcer Bob Sheppard — was Sterling’s. I grew up listening to him, after all.

This week, it was abruptly announced that the golden-voiced 85-year-old is retiring, effective immediately.  He’s called more than 5,600 Yankees games during his career, having started with the franchise in 1989.  He’s been an audio companion to so many, spanning generations.  I was four years old when he settled in behind the mic in the Bronx.  For the next 30 years, he never missed a single broadcast.  Not one.  Even into his ’80s, he rarely skipped a game, for any reason.  So Monday’s development marks an inevitable, yet still jarring, end of an era.  Sterling will be honored in an on-field ceremony at Yankee Stadium this Saturday, and how I wish I could be there.  The man has had his detractors through the years, to be sure, and maybe they weren’t always wrong.  He’s bombastic.  He’s showy.  He’s melodramatic.  He’s an over-the-top homer.  Some of his forced, player-specific home run calls veered into the absurd.  And he occasionally botched calls, especially later in his career.  Fine.

But he embraced his role as an entertainer.  When absurdity prevailed, he was usually in on the joke.  Suzyn Waldman, his broadcast partner since 2005, aptly dubbed him “an original.”  And Yankees Universe generally loved him for it.  His love of the game, and his passion for its details, crackled through the radio, night in and night out.  His voice documented nearly every major Yankees moment over the course of my entire fandom to date.  (Perhaps fittingly, one of our successors in Chatham — Emmanuel Berbari — is now one of Sterling’s successors with the Yankees). Some of those calls are etched into my memory, like “Hayes has room, Hayes makes the catch!”  If you know, you know.  I like to say that baseball on the radio is the soundtrack of summer — and if you’re lucky, autumn, too.  For decades, John Sterling has voiced my summer soundtrack.  And one time, he even left a voicemail for a kid with a dream of having his job one day.

Thank you, John, for all of it.  What a career.  Someone cue Sinatra.