Yankees legend John Sterling’s retirement shakes team, Suzyn Waldman

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TORONTO — A few days ago, John Sterling told Suzyn Waldman he had called his final New York Yankees game.

“I can’t,” he told her over the phone. “I’m done.”

But it became real Monday when the 85-year-old announced via a press release that he was ending his legendary run as the Yankees’ primary play-by-player.

“As a little boy growing up in New York as a Yankees fan,” he said. “I was able to broadcast the Yankees for 36 years. It’s all to my benefit, and I leave very, very happy.”

The Yankees plan to honor Sterling at Yankee Stadium on Saturday.

“There is no shortage of adjectives to describe John and what he means to this organization and our millions of fans around the world,” the team said in the release, adding that he was a “Goliath of the sports broadcasting world.”

The finality of Sterling’s decision hit Waldman hard. She had been his broadcast partner since 2004. They had been friends since 1987, when Waldman did news updates on WFAN.

“Nothing can be the same,” she said. “Life goes on. We all go on. But nothing will ever be the same.”

Waldman called Monday’s game against the Blue Jays in Toronto next to Justin Shackil, who had been one of several people filling in for Sterling as he’s handled health issues in recent years.

Sterling called the Yankees’ six-game road trip to start the season in Houston and Arizona, and then their first two home games before he needed to take a break. The last game he called was an 8-3 Yankees win over the Blue Jays at home on Sunday, April 7.

A sampling of his resume includes calling five Yankees World Series titles and two perfect games. He called 5,420 Yankees regular-season games, including 5,060 consecutive from Sept. 1989 to July 2019. He also called 211 postseason games. And that’s just with the Yankees. Sterling spent 64 years in broadcasting, including stints calling games for the Atlanta Hawks and the Atlanta Braves.

Sterling has four children, including three who recently graduated from college.

“You think about it,” Waldman said, “you get to a certain age, and he deserves to enjoy the rest of his life. He has a daughter to walk down the aisle in a year.”

She was thrilled that Sterling got to go out on his terms.

“That’s the worst thing that you could ever have happen to you, I think, is somebody telling you that’s enough,” Waldman said. “You can’t do it anymore. I think this is the greatest way you can go out, is to make the design on your own and to be really clear and be happy about it. He knows what he’s done in this industry.”

YES Network play-by-play man Michael Kay called games for a decade with Sterling as his partner. On his show on ESPN Radio on Monday, Kay said that Sterling broke the news of his retirement to him on Saturday. Kay described the phone call as “emotional.”

“His voice does not sound like an 85-year-old man,” Kay said. “He sounds like he did when I started working with him when he was 50.”

Kay said that Sterling told him he wasn’t retiring for health reasons, but because “‘I just don’t enjoy doing it anymore.’”

Aaron Judge counted himself among Sterling’s many admirers. He beamed about Sterling calling his first career home run in his first big-league game on Aug. 13, 2016, at Yankee Stadium. Judge said his parents, Wayne and Patty, love hearing Sterling on the radio. They were present for his first home run, but Wayne Judge played Sterling’s call of the blast “over and over again” on YouTube that night.

“What John has meant to Yankees baseball all around the country and to broadcasting, it’s tough to put into words,” said Judge.

Aaron Boone served as an ESPN analyst from 2010 until 2017. He became the Yankees’ manager in 2018. He said Sterling has an “amazing, classic voice with so many calls.”

“One of the things I love to do now is, anytime that we’ve had a game or big moments in a game or big plays in a game, I’ll go back and watch, just to hear John and Michael and Suzyn’s call on things,” Boone said. “His voice is legendary. His calls have been legendary.”

Boone said he’s “bummed out” and “sad” that Sterling decided to retire, but added that he just wants him “to be in a good spot and healthy moving forward.” He said his favorite Sterling moment came when a foul ball hit Sterling in the head while he was broadcasting the game in the booth vs. the Boston Red Sox last year. Sterling continued to call the game despite the ball bloodying his eyebrow.

“That is John,” Boone said. “There’s a youthful exuberance to the way he goes about things that is uniquely John and unapologetically John and I appreciate that about him.”

YES Network’s Meredith Marakovits has worked in a booth next to Sterling’s at Yankee Stadium since 2012. She said games at the stadium don’t feel official until Sterling walks into the YES booth and says hello to each person, cracking jokes here and there. Once the chit-chat finished, Sterling would step into WFAN’s booth and call the game.

“As soon as the lights turn on, I’ve never seen someone dial in like that,” Marakovits said. “As soon as the first pitch is thrown, he’s in it. He lives and dies with every pitch.”

Waldman said she hopes Yankees fans put their appreciation for Sterling on full display when the team honors him.

“I hope on Saturday everyone shows him,” Waldman said. “There are three generations who know nothing but Yankees baseball with John Sterling.”

(Photo of John Sterling and Michael Kay from the 75th Yankees Old-Timers’ Day on Sept. 9, 2023: Rich Graessle / Icon Sportswire via Associated Press)

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