John Sterling is 83 years old and has been broadcasting for such a long time that he once was the radio voice of the Baltimore Bullets, the WHA’s New York Raiders, and the New York Stars of the WFL. He’s been calling Yankees games for so long, he was behind the microphone for their last losing season, during the first Bush Administration, 1992 to be exact.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Sterling has not been traveling to road games. Much like his former radio partner, TV voice Michael Kay, when the Yankees are out of town, Sterling has been going to Yankee Stadium to call games remotely. It makes sense for Kay, who appears on camera with a rotating cast of analysts, to go to the Bronx. But even on the TV side, Paul O’Neill works from home, in Ohio, where he’s hunkered down in “Studio 21.”
For radio? Sterling’s partner Suzyn Waldman broadcasts from home. Surely, somebody could get a soundboard and microphone to Sterling’s place in New Jersey and save him from having to commute to and from the city when baseball isn’t even being played there. Perhaps it’s his own choice to go to the stadium rather than having his own “home broadcast booth,” but either way, it’s now about finances, not safety, that Yankees broadcasters aren’t at all Yankees games.
Sterling and Waldman are both vaccinated, and according to the New York Post earlier this summer, the reason that they’re not traveling with the Yankees is that WFAN won’t pay for their hotels or meals on the road. It’s a decision that has led to worse radio broadcasts of Yankees games, and on Wednesday night nearly cost Sterling his life.
Driving home from the Bronx after the Yankees’ 4-1 win in Anaheim, Sterling’s car got stuck in flood waters from the remnants of Hurricane Ida. He called Waldman, who told him the Yankees’ Spanish-language broadcaster, Rickie Ricardo, was still at the stadium doing a post-game show. Sterling was able to get in touch with Ricardo — who happens to live in the same town — to come rescue him in his Jeep on his own way home.
Thankfully, it all worked out, but the ludicrous situation of having radio broadcasters work at an empty stadium was that close to turning tragic. The situation was bad and unprecedented — a mix of record rainfall and a metro area both unaccustomed to, and unprepared for, such dramatic flooding (Kay gave up trying to get home and waited it out at Fordham University, his alma mater) — but also preventable.
There’s no good reason for the Yankees’ fully vaccinated broadcasters to be doing games off TV monitors, thousands of miles from where the team is actually playing. There’s even less reason for them to have to go to an empty stadium to work. It’s great that Ricardo was able to rescue Sterling, but nobody involved should have been in that situation, and everyone involved in the lousy decisions to broadcast games this way is lucky today not to have blood on their hands for the death of a radio legend.