Back in 1990, when the Bronx was still a zoo and long before anyone had heard of the Core Four, the struggling New York Yankees were headed for just the fourth last-place finish in franchise history. They were getting ripped in the press and on the local sports-talk airwaves, with fans directing much of their ire at owner George Steinbrenner. While broadcasting a Yankees game on the final day of a homestand that June, radio play-by-play man John Sterling, then in his second year with the club, suggested to his listeners that they lay off Steinbrenner and general manager Harding “Pete” Peterson, and instead focus their frustration at the players themselves.
Steinbrenner must have been listening, and he must have appreciated someone coming to his defense when it was unpopular to do so. A few days later, during a rain delay of a Yankees-Brewers game at Milwaukee County Stadium, Sterling ran into the Boss, who had traveled with the team to see his friend, then-Brewers owner Bud Selig: “He said to me, ‘John, I want to tell you something. You’ll always do the Yankee games, and if they ever try to replace you, I’ll veto it.’”
That July, Steinbrenner was temporarily banned by Major League Baseball (he paid a known gambler, Howie Spira, to dig up dirt on former Yankees outfielder Dave Winfield; Steinbrenner was reinstated by MLB in 1993). And in August, Peterson was fired. But 25 years later, Sterling remains at the microphone, having not missed a single game since arriving in the Bronx. He’s the longtime play-by-play voice of the league’s most popular team, in the country’s biggest market. But he’s also become one of the most polarizing figures in sports media for his catchphrase-heavy shtick and occasional on-air blunders.
Sterling knows what people say about him. And he says it doesn’t bother him. In fact, he’d rather people say it to his face.
Born in 1938 and raised on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Sterling began his radio career at a small station in upstate New York. He eventually landed a gig as a rock DJ in Providence, and later hosted a general talk show in Baltimore. He’d sometimes talk about sports on air, which led to work calling games of the NFL’s Colts and NBA’s Bullets, back when both teams were still located in the city.
In 1971, Sterling returned to his hometown, and the following year he began hosting a sports-talk show on WMCA. In 1975, he started calling games for the Islanders and the Nets, both of whom then played on Long Island, but he spent much of the 1980s in Atlanta as the play-by-man for the Braves and the Hawks. It was there that he displayed the forerunners to the unique calls that would become his signature. When describing a particularly spectacular play by Hawks star Dominique Wilkins, he’d exclaim “Dominique is magnifique!” or “Dominique is terifique!”
In 1989, Sterling landed the Yankees radio job without an audition, thanks to someone at WABC (then the team’s radio home) who’d remembered his work in New York from the 1970s and had heard him more recently on Atlanta-based TBS. The hire apparently delighted Steinbrenner, who later told Sterling that he’d always wanted him to call Yankees games.
By the mid 1990s, New York was improving thanks to the homegrown players who would form the foundation of a new dynasty; 1995 alone saw the major league debuts of four players—Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera,Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada—who would come to be known as the Core Four for helping the Yankees win five World Series titles. Sterling’s calls of those famed teams would help bring him to the attention of fans nationwide.
It was around that time that Sterling began to develop a trademark style. It began with the way he punctuated New York’s victories. After one game during Buck Showalter’s tenure as manager, which ran from 1992-95, rather than simply saying “Yankees win!” Sterling tacked on a few words in his deep, booming voice: “Yankees win! The Yankees win!”
“I did it very straight,” Sterling recalls.
But by changing the delivery, it would soon become one of his signature calls. “One day, for whatever reason, I put a little rock-and-roll into it,” he says: “Yankees win, thuuuuuhhh Yankees win.”
“I started hearing it come back,” recalled Sterling on a May afternoon from his broadcast booth at Yankee Stadium. People would yell the phrase back at him from across the street, or tell him that Mike Francesa and Chris “Mad Dog” Russo were discussing it on their influential WFAN radio show. “It became a thing, so I kept it,” he says.
Sterling learned early in his career how catchphrases could enter the lexicon: He remembers hearing lines from the TV program Get Smart when he was still a young radio DJ, and even though he himself worked nights and never watched the show, he knew the significance of sayings like “Sorry about that, Chief” and “Missed it by that much.”
Consider his personalized home-run calls for each player on the Yankees, which draw on everything from Broadway lyrics to groan-worthy wordplay, and have gotten increasingly stylistic ever since he innocently debuted his first ones, for Bernie Williams, the Yankees’ longtime centerfielder. (One of Sterling’s Williams calls, “Bern, baby, Bern,” was meant as a reference to the civil rights rallying cry, not the song “Disco Inferno.”)
Almost all of his home run calls begin with the lines “It is high, it is far, it is gone.” The personalization follows: When former Yankee Curtis Granderson went deep, Sterling’s call was “Oh Curtis, you’re something sort of Grandish,” a reference to the musical Finian’s Rainbow. Lance Berkman hit just one home run for the Yankees but he still got a personalized call, one owing to the musicalCamelot: “Sir Lancelot rides to the rescue! C’est lui! C’est lui!” Melky Cabrera’s homers were announced as “the Melkman delivers.” Alex Rodriguez’s dingers are “A-bombs from A-Rod.” Tino Martinez was the “Bam-tino”; Jason Giambi, the “Giambino.” Once upon a time, only select players got individualized calls, but now that it’s part of his established shtick, there’s demand for more.
“The home run thing has become a cottage industry,” says Sterling. “Now I have to do it for everyone.”
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Jason Barrett is the owner and operator of Barrett Sports Media. Prior to launching BSM he served as a sports radio programmer, launching brands such as 95.7 The Game in San Francisco and 101 ESPN in St. Louis. He has also produced national shows for ESPN Radio including GameNight and the Dan Patrick Show. You can find him on Twitter @SportsRadioPD or reach him by email at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.
K&C Masterpiece: Cowboys Could Add 30 Million More Viewers To Super Bowl
“The Cowboys in the Super Bowl against the Chiefs would’ve shattered all viewership ratings.”
The matchup in this year’s Super Bowl is set, and the game will undoubtedly be the most-viewed program on TV this year. But if the Dallas Cowboys were taking part in the game, it’s safe to say the ratings would be astronomical.
The Cowboys divisional playoff game against San Francisco drew 45.7 million viewers. It was the second-most watched divisional round contest on record.
The NFC championship between San Francisco and Philadelphia drew 47.5 million.
On 105.3 The Fan in Dallas, K&C Masterpiece host Kevin Hageland said had the Cowboys made it to Philly, the viewership would’ve been even better.
“I know the game sucked, but that just shows you, because the Cowboys were like almost 8 million above every other divisional game, this could’ve gotten to 58 (million),” Hageland said.
Kevin added that if Dallas had gone all the way, the audience tuning in would’ve easily eclipsed some of the highest-rated programs of all-time.
“The Cowboys in the Super Bowl against the Chiefs would’ve shattered all viewership ratings,” he said. “Even with the new system and so many people streaming and everything like that.”
Usually the Super Bowl averages around 100 million viewers. Hageland said a Cowboys Super Bowl appearance in this day and age would’ve set the new top ratings mark for years to come.
“My estimation would be you would add approximately an extra 30 million people,” he said.
Jordan Bondurant is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. He works full-time as a multimedia specialist at the Virginia State Corporation Commission, while also putting in part-time work for News Radio WRVA and 910 The Fan in Richmond. Additionally, you can find Jordan contributing coverage of the Washington Capitals for the blog NoVa Caps. His prior media experiences include working for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the Danville Register & Bee, Virginia Lawyers Weekly and ABC 8News. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @J__Bondurant.
Angelo Cataldi Bans Andy Reid’s Voice From WIP Morning Show
“25% of the people who voted in our poll and said they admire and respect Reid more than Sirianni, you 25% have not been paying any attention for years.”
As Super Bowl LVII approaches, many storylines have emerged. One includes Chiefs Head Coach Andy Reid facing off with the team he coached for 14 years, the Philadelphia Eagles. Reid is a beloved figure in NFL circles, but 94WIP morning host Angelo Cataldi couldn’t hold back his disdain for the coaching legend.
On Tuesday morning, Cataldi mentioned he couldn’t believe Reid was so highly regarded in NFL media circles. The longtime host said Reid was never truthful during interviews.
After playing clips that included Reid saying the Eagles “were a good team” and how the Chiefs “would need a good game plan” to grab a victory, Cataldi took issue with the generalities Reid spoke with. When asked what he expected from an NFL head coach, Cataldi compared Reid to current Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni.
“I was expecting something like Nick gives me every time,” Cataldi said. “I hate Reid ’cause he never won me the Super Bowl, I hate Reid that it took him six years to get there, it took Nick two, and I hate Reid because he never bothered to share a damn thing. If you’re out there, with 25% of the people who voted in our poll and said they admire and respect Reid more than Sirianni, you 25% have not been paying any attention for years.”
Cataldi — who admitted “I don’t like the man, and I’ve never liked the man” — said he received more than 300 emails about Reid, noting he didn’t realize he was “widely regarded as the all-time Andy Reid critic” in Philadelphia.
The 94WIP host added listeners will not hear the voice of the “phony, fraud” Reid any longer on his morning show.
“I do not control the other dayparts here. I don’t control the newsroom. I’m done playing anything said by Andy Reid. ‘Cause I learned over 14 years it’s a waste of time.”
Seth Payne: Ross Tucker is Stealing My Takes Without Attribution
“He is the manager that takes your ideas and then sends them up one level without any attribution whatsoever.”
Seth Payne cannot say he wasn’t warned. When Ross Tucker joined Payne and Pendergast on Sports Radio 610 in Houston earlier this week, the seven-year NFL veteran told Payne that his take was so good that he would be stealing it.
“You know what, Seth, that is a great point that I am going to use the rest of the week in all my media stuff,” Tucker said when Payne suggested that the Philadelphia Eagles “earned” an injury to the San Francisco 49ers’ quarterbacks by taking advantage of poor blocking schemes that included using tight ends to block NFL sack leader Hasson Reddick.
A listener named Burch tweeted evidence to Seth Payne of Ross Tucker following through on his promise.
“If the rest of you out there can be more like Burch and let us know when people are stealing our good takes, they can have our bad takes,” Payne’s morning show partner Sean Pendergast said on Tuesday morning.
The duo then played the audio, which they said appeared to come from an unidentified CBS show. In it, Tucker says that the Eagles “earned those injuries” and used tight ends being assigned to block Reddick as his justification for the take.
“I think it’s pretty obvious what kind of a boss Ross Tucker is, like what kind of a manager,” Payne said. “He is the manager that takes your ideas and then sends them up one level without any attribution whatsoever.”
Ross Tucker is no shortage of platforms to spread the take around. He is on multiple Audacy sports talk stations during the football season. He also makes regular appearances with Dan Patrick and SiriusXM as well as hosting his own podcast.
“This is what you get from these Princeton types,” Payne said of being ripped off. “This is how they get where they are in the world.”