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Opinion: The voice of Yankees legends bids farewell

New York Yankees radio broadcaster John Sterling speaks during the teams 63rd Old Timers Day before the game against the Detroit Tigers on July 19, 2009, at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.
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New York Yankees radio broadcaster John Sterling speaks during the teams 63rd Old Timers Day before the game against the Detroit Tigers on July 19, 2009, at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.

"It is high! It is far! It is ... gone!"

John Sterling has said for the 36 years that he has narrated, more than just announced, all the home runs, balls, strikes, pick offs, pop flies, late tags, stolen bases, wins, losses, and saves that orchestrate a major league baseball game. Pitch by pitch, swing by swing.

John Sterling will be honored in a pre-game ceremony at Yankee Stadium today, just before the New York Yankees play the Tampa Bay Rays. He is retiring at the age of 85.

John Sterling, who grew up a Yankees fan in New York, has called 5,420 of the Yankees' regular season games, including every at-bat by Derek Jeter, the team's Hall of Fame shortstop; and every inning pitched by Mariano Rivera, their equally Hall of Famous relief pitcher. He was the voice that chronicled the team for their four World Series championships from 1996 to 2000, and then the last time they won in 2009.

He became known for his home run calls.

"It's a Jeter Jolt!" he'd proclaim for stroke into the seats by Derek Jeter. "Bern, baby, Bern!" he'd trumpet for Bernie Williams. When Hideki Matsui clubbed a homer, John Sterling would declare, "A thrilla from Godzilla!" It was, "An A-Bomb from the A-Rod!" for Alex Rodriguez, and "Nobody beats the Rizz!" for Anthony Rizzo.

When home run champion Aaron Judge strode to the plate, John Sterling would often intone, "Here come the Judge!"

And on Oct. 4, 2022, when Judge struck his 62nd home run of the season, this pronouncement from John Sterling had the authority of words carved into a stone tablet:

"And now Aaron Judge hits his 62nd homerun. The most home runs any American Leaguer has ever hit in a single season, this is judgement day. Case closed."

Even the Yankees have good years and bad years, and most years don't wind up in a World Series. But John Sterling's alchemy of colorful, corny, and artful play-by-play has played in the minds of people who heard his voice, night after night, year after year, for 36 years.

People listened as they sat in kitchens, or drove across the Queensborough Bridge, or down Astoria Boulevard. I think of all the children who grew up hearing that voice as they slipped under the covers, but stayed wide awake, while John Sterling told them the best bed-time stories of great players in pinstripes, striking bolts of lightning in Yankee Stadium.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
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