Born on the 4th of July.
That is a special day to celebrate a birthday. It is my birthday. John Sterling’s birthday, too.
The Yankees’ legendary broadcaster and I always wish each other a happy birthday whenever we are together at a ballgame on the 4th of July.
If I happened to be at a Mets game, John and his radio partner Suzyn Waldman would give me a shoutout on WFAN.
This year, of course, is different.
There will be no major league games on July 4th and for the first time in 38 years.
Sterling, who broadcast Braves games before joining the Yankees in 1989, will not be broadcasting on the 4th because of Covid-19.
It will not be long though before John is back in the booth at Yankee Stadium; for both the home and road games.
Sterling told BallNine that is the hope right now when the Yankees open up.
Do the home games in the booth at Yankee Stadium and also the road games from there as well — those road games will be broadcast off a monitor.
Everything, though, is subject to change these days in MLB. Broadcast plans may change.
“This is the craziest year that any of us have ever lived, and there is no number two, nothing comes close,” Sterling told me in his deep voice. “Whoever thought, in this country – this phenomenal country – forget about doing games, you can’t call up people and ask them to go to dinner.
It’s just a very, very odd year and you almost don’t know what day it is or where you are.
You’re doing the same thing all the time and as I tell everyone, ‘Well, we’ve proven we can do house arrest.’ It’s certainly very strange.”
It was wonderful to hear John’s booming voice on the other end of the phone. He is truly one of a kind.
Sterling will turn 82 on July 4th but there was never any question he would be back to work when games begin.
“I’m a very optimistic person, I’m Oscar Hammerstein’s Cockeyed Optimist and I don’t fear it,” Sterling said, taking a song page from South Pacific. “Of course when I am going around I have a mask and gloves on and I am really quarantining myself. I tell friends and family if we don’t get the virus, we’ve won.
“I don’t have any fear of going to Yankee Stadium. I think by far the most important thing will be the testing.”
He feels Yankee Stadium will be a safe haven and that is his broadcast home.
“We are trying to get into the Stadium to do the away games off a monitor,” Sterling told me. “The reason why we want to do them in the Stadium rather than the YES studios up in Stamford — and they’ve been very nice to offer us space — you are much safer outside than inside.”
He can be in one booth and Waldman can be in the booth next door.
John Sterling in his environment. Photo: New York Magazine
“Suzyn does a great job, she stays in contact with a lot of the broadcasters and they have all indicated to Suzyn – including the Mets – that they are going to let Howie Rose & Co. do the away games from Citi Field and do it off the monitor.
“You can say to me, ‘How do you think that is going to sound?’ And I have no idea. You can say this: the cameras better find the ball because you are at their mercy.”
In the past when Sterling worked a game there were fans in the stands, so when a Yankee hit a home run and Sterling made one of his dramatic home run calls, there was crowd noise. This year, for the first time ever, there will be no crowd noise, no cheers from the fans – no fans – so a Yankee, as he rounds the bases will be able to hear the home run call live because the windows will be open in the booth and Sterling’s voice will carry down to the field into the Bronx.
Aaron Judge will be able to hear: “A Judge-ian blast. All rise. Here comes the Judge!”
“It’s interesting to think that way,” Sterling said. “When I was doing basketball games and the crowd was small I would say you can actually hear the basketball being bounced. I have no idea how it’s going to go.”
Sterling revealed why he doesn’t look at a monitor during live action: “Because I’m afraid they are not going to find the ball. I may look at it after a play is over. Doing a game from a monitor, I have to wait and see. It’s like this virus, I have no idea.”
He has no idea if all the games will be played in the 60-game season and on through the playoffs. No one has that answer.
“I’m really wondering how this is all going to go down,” Sterling said.
No matter what, Sterling will give it his best shot and his best voice. Sterling and Waldman are part of the fabric of the Yankees. John and Suzyn have built a special bond.
“Suzyn Waldman is a very driven person and in fact I would say that is true for both of us,” Sterling offered. “We are both self-starters. And Suzyn has had to find a way, she has been with me 15-16 years and she has found a way to have an imprint on the broadcast. She does tremendous research. She has this tremendous desire to be correct and does a lot of work on it. She has really been a fabulous partner and I love working with her.”
July 4th was George Steinbrenner’s birthday, too. It’s a Yankee Doodle Dandy kind of day just like the George M. Cohan movie. Cohan was born on the third of July but celebrated the fourth.
Sterling loves his work and always appreciated working a Yankee game on the 4th of July. Like the song says: “He’s a Yankee Doodle Dandy, a Yankee Doodle do or die. A real live nephew of his Uncle Sam, born on the 4th of July.”
“I get inundated with phone calls and texts and if I had email, email,” Sterling said of the birthday wishes that come on July 4th. “I don’t kid myself, I make a joke out of it. It’s because I’m born July 4th. If I was born July 18th, no one would know, no one would care but because it’s July 4th it is so celebrated and it’s a wonderful feeling, people calling in and texting in from around the country.
“I never thought the game on July 4th was more important than the game on July 3rd or July 5th. That’s the great thing about baseball,” he said. “One game prepares you for the next because there is always a story line.”
On the day I was born in 1953, there were eight doubleheaders, all 16 major league teams played a doubleheader back then. The Yankees swept the Philadelphia A’s. That’s the way it used to be in baseball. That always made July 4th that much more special.
In 1961, the Yankees and Tigers split a doubleheader in front of 74,246 fans with Yankee killer Frank Lary (28-13 against the Yankees lifetime) winning the nightcap, a game that featured a steal of home by Chico Fernandez – a triple steal, no less – and a Roger Maris home run, one of 61 in ’61.
My father was a huge Tigers fan and that 101-win team featured Al Kaline and Rocky Colavito and that was one of the first games I ever attended at Yankee Stadium. It was a classic doubleheader. Baseball and the 4th of July just go together.
“There are a lot of songs that are very patriotic that I love listening to,” said Sterling, who is a fan of the Great American Songbook and Siriusly Sinatra on Sirius XM Radio, and it just so happened as he was driving around town doing errands on this day, “They played a very patriotic song that I love called: You’re a Lucky Fellow, Mr. Smith.
“It’s a terrific song and Frank sang it great along with the chorus.”
The show must go on for Sterling.
“I never have notes,” Sterling said with a laugh of his robust broadcasting style. “I do everything from the top of my head or the seat of my pants. I live life that way and I broadcast that way.”
That’s what makes John Sterling so much fun to listen to: Happy 4th.
Happy Birthday, John.
May you have a Yankee game to broadcast come July 4th 2021, fans and all.