Legendary Yankees radio voice John Sterling retires: 'I leave very, very happy'

April 16th, 2024

TORONTO -- Summer won’t sound the same without John Sterling, the legendary radio voice of the Yankees, whose distinctive and booming baritone provided the background for more than three decades of winning baseball in the Bronx.

The Yankees announced on Monday that Sterling has retired, effective immediately. The 85-year-old Sterling will be recognized in a pregame ceremony on Saturday at Yankee Stadium. He will visit the WFAN radio booth during that afternoon’s game against the Rays.

“I am a very blessed human being,” Sterling said in a statement. “I have been able to do what I wanted, broadcasting for 64 years. As a little boy growing up in New York as a Yankees fan, I was able to broadcast the Yankees for 36 years. It’s all to my benefit, and I leave very, very happy. I look forward to seeing everyone again on Saturday.”

Sterling, who called 5,420 regular-season Yankees games and 211 more in the postseason, lent his commentary to broadcasts for multiple generations of fans since joining the club during the 1989 season.

“Nothing will ever be the same. It can’t be,” said Suzyn Waldman, his longtime radio partner. “Life goes on, and we all go on, but nothing will ever be the same. … Everything about him is unique. He’s one of a kind.

“There will never be another person like that, to have that kind of love for a team and that kind of love for his fan base. I hope Saturday that everybody shows him that. I hope people understand that he lived a dream that none of us really get to do.”

Known for his gyrating "Sterling Shake" victory call (“Yankees win … theeeeee Yankees win!”), humorous phrases tacked onto play-by-play action (“Back to back, and a belly to belly!”) and personalized home run calls (“Bern Baby Bern!”), Sterling called 5,060 consecutive games from September 1989 to July 2019 -- every at-bat of Derek Jeter’s career, every inning of Mariano Rivera’s and more.

Yankees captain Aaron Judge said on Monday that he was saddened to learn of Sterling’s retirement, noting that the radio broadcasts are a nightly must-listen for his parents, Patty and Wayne.

“My parents listen to the radio, and love Suzyn and John going back and forth,” Judge said. “Even going back to listening to some historic homers or big moments in Yankees history, hearing John there -- he’s going to be missed.”

In the visiting dugout at Rogers Centre, Yankees manager Aaron Boone beamed as he recounted Sterling’s mannerisms, excitedly mimicking the early part of a home run call: “THERE it goes to deep left!”

“I’m bummed out about it; sad about it,” Boone said. “But I certainly just want him to be in a good spot and healthy moving forward. I know that this is the right time and the best thing for John. He’ll be forever connected to the Yankees, and a voice for generations. In my own way, I imitate him at some point every day. He’ll be missed, and I’m looking forward to properly celebrating him this weekend.”

Travel became more difficult for Sterling in recent years, though he had planned to work many home games while making select road trips this season. Sterling experienced fatigue after the Yankees’ season-opening road trip to Houston and Arizona. He called his final game on April 7, an 8-3 victory over the Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium.

“The greatest way you can go out is to make the decision on your own and be really happy about it,” Waldman said. “He knows what he’s done in this industry, and he knows that most people just love him, because there will never be another.”

A native New Yorker who grew up on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Sterling joined the Yankees broadcast team in 1989 from Atlanta’s TBS and WSB Radio, where he called Hawks basketball (1981-89) and Braves games (1982-87). It marked a return to the town where he first achieved success, hosting a talk show on WMCA from 1971-78, and calling the Nets (1975-80) and Islanders (1975-78) for WMCA, WVNJ, WWOR-TV and SportsChannel.

Sterling also previously called Morgan State Football (eight years) and Washington Bullets basketball in 1981. In addition to seven years at WMCA and a year at WSB in Atlanta, he has also hosted talk shows on WFAN and WABC in New York. Sterling often served as a master of on-field ceremonies for major Yankees events and is well known for his emcee work at City Hall (with his former radio partner Michael Kay) at “Key to the City” ceremonies following Yankees World Series victories.

“Fans find a certain comfort in the daily rhythms of baseball,” the Yankees said in a statement. “Day in and day out, season after season, and city after city, John Sterling used his seat in the broadcast booth to bring Yankees fans the heartbeat of the game, employing an orotund voice and colorful personality that were distinctly, unmistakably his own. John informed and entertained, and he exemplified what it means to be a New Yorker with an unapologetic and boisterous style that exuded his passion for baseball, broadcasting and the New York Yankees.

“There is no shortage of adjectives to describe John and what he means to this organization and our millions of fans worldwide. But what makes John a goliath of the sports broadcasting world was how sacred he held his role as voice of the Yankees. Showing up to perform virtually every single day since 1989, he was a pillar for Yankees fans who relied on the comfort and familiarity of his voice to be the soundtrack of their spring, summer and fall. Given the tremendous care he had for the team and his performance on the air, it’s not a stretch to believe that our fans live and die with every pitch because John Sterling did the same.

“We congratulate John on a remarkable and illustrious career. His contributions to this great game and to the Yankees franchise will echo long into the future.”