Longtime Yankees radio announcer John Sterling went semi-viral for the wrong reasons during last night’s game against the Blue Jays when he seriously misjudged the final landing spot of a Giancarlo Stanton swing that would have tied the game in the late innings. Take a listen for yourself, and for the full effect, don’t watch the video alongside it.
This is a rough mistake that is mostly pretty funny to me—mainly that rueful “Boy, I thought that was gone”—but it also served as a launch pad for people online to air their complaints about the, shall we say, divisive 83-year-old broadcaster. Many fans seem tired of Sterling’s over-exaggerated emphasis on certain syllables, and his heavy reliance on silly catch phrases, and his less than 100 percent accuracy on calls.
I actually don’t mind any of that, though! Oddly enough, I listen to the Yankees on the radio more than any other team except maybe my Tigers, because I don’t get their TV broadcasts, and I’ve grown to genuinely enjoy the pairing of Sterling and Suzyn Waldman. A baseball writer once told me this was because I like “old-timey things,” but more specifically, the blown calls don’t bug me all that much (particularly when Sterling was calling games off a monitor during COVID), the hamminess keeps my attention, and the catch phrases are usually silly and dated enough to provide me with some extra entertainment, especially because they don’t interfere with live action. (Some research prompted by Sterling’s Anthony Rizzo home run call introduced me to the apparently once ubiquitous phrase, “Nobody beats the Wiz.”)
My own preference aside, a strong objective defense of Sterling might rest in the similarities between him and Phil Rizzuto, who called Yankees games for 40 years and about whom I have never heard a single negative word. What’s the difference between Sterling and Rizzuto? Well, seven World Series and a Hall of Fame plaque as a player. But outside of the on-field accomplishments, I think they’re closer than some of Sterling’s detractors might like to admit. Rizzuto had his own catchphrases, was easily distracted, and could just as often whiff on calls. Here’s a video of him making the exact same mistake Sterling did last night.
For an even fuller experience, and just because I found this today and want to share it with you all, here he is just delightfully trying to get through an inning while lightning flashes around New York. My favorite part, right near the end, is when the radio broadcaster goes, “Holy cow, did you see that lightning?” Perhaps someone listening in nearby Queens did, but 48 years later, I’m simply left to imagine it, and Rizzuto’s face as it crossed the sky.
What I’m really getting at, though, is that I like when announcers have a shtick. Sterling filling in the gaps in games with his own idiosyncrasies works for me, as does the jovial uncle-then-grandpa act that made Rizzuto such a local icon. Former White Sox announcer “Hawk” Harrelson’s homerism, in which he could go completely silent when a good play went against Chicago, is an example of it going too far. Someone like Jim Nantz, on the other hand, is not nearly showy enough for my taste. I want my announcers right up to the edge of maximalism, with an unmistakable, unforgettable presence and an arsenal of quirky trademark phrases that you can then yell at your friends. And if the call gets botched in the process, ah, who cares. The game probably didn’t matter that much, anyway.