From the window of his living room overlooking the Hudson River, John Sterling can see the George Washington Bridge if he cranes his neck far to the left. No matter how hard he tries, however, he can’t quite see where he would really like to be, which is in the radio booth at Yankee Stadium.
“I can’t call a baseball game,’’ he said. “But I can give you a traffic report on the West Side Highway. Very light.’’
Thirty-five miles up the river in her home in Croton-on-Hudson, Suzyn Waldman, for the past 17 seasons Sterling’s broadcast compañero — as he likes to call her — is occupying herself gardening, playing with her two German Shepherds, and watching a robin build a nest outside her living room windows.
“This is not like we’re taking a snow day,’’ she said. “If I have to choose between having my life and having baseball, I’m OK with not having a little baseball.’’
For the first time in decades, the soundtrack of a New York summer is on mute. Sterling has been the play-by-play voice of the Yankees, either on TV or radio, since 1989, and for 30 years, he’s never missed a single pitch of a single Yankees game. Waldman started doing the Yankees pregame and postgame shows around the same time, and since 2003 has served as the color analyst alongside Sterling, where she endures his forays into Broadway show tunes, old movie lines and obscure references occasionally punctuated by one of his signature home run calls.
Between February and October for each of those seasons, these two have spent more time together than most married couples, working together, traveling together, eating dinner every night in a press box lounge. And although they are still, technically, working together — a couple of times a week, they co-host a half-hour interview show on WFAN, New York’s famed sports talk station, leading into the taped rebroadcast of a classic Yankees game. Nothing about their 2020 baseball season has been like any other, nor is it likely to be.
“This year is the craziest, and there’s no number two. Nothing close in my lifetime,’’ said Sterling, who, at 81 years old and with 60 years in the business, has already lived several broadcast lifetimes, and several years ago saw his previous apartment building burn down. The blaze consumed his 11 Emmys and his treasured collection of Sinatra CDs.
“I want sports to return, it’s been my whole life, and I’m getting tired of watching old games,’’ he said. “But to tell you truth, i think it’s going to be almost impossible this year.’’
“I have no idea,’’ Waldman said when asked if she thought baseball would return this season. “It’s going to be very difficult. But whatever happens, I just want to be alive and enjoy the rest of my life.’’
Sterling and Waldman, who is 73, belong to the demographic most vulnerable to the ravages of COVID-19, and to further complicate matters, Waldman is a cancer survivor. She said she’s not getting on an airplane under any circumstances.
“If I can’t get there in my car, I’m not going,’’ she said.
Sterling, who turns 82 on July 4, sidesteps the question of whether he would allow himself to be locked into an aluminum cylinder with a full load of ballplayers, coaches and support staff. “Well, they’re not going to let us, so it’s not my problem,’’ he said. “But how are they even going to allow the whole team onto a bus?’’
The logistics of baseball returning to the field under the threat of a pandemic that requires significant social distancing and virtually constant testing to maintain safety have yet to be finalized, but this much is certain: If and when baseball resumes at some point this summer, Sterling and Waldman are likely to be separated by a pane of glass in the Yankee Stadium radio booth, when the team is at home, and they’ll be separated from the game by hundreds of miles when it is on the road. They’ll call away games off a TV monitor, something Sterling is loath to do; he prides himself on watching every game live and, since having cataract surgery last year, says his vision is better than ever.
Already, he is struggling with the technology required to simulate sports broadcasting in the Age of Corona. While Waldman transmits via a professional broadcast-quality Comrex phone, Sterling, a man who famously does not own a computer, is forced to do his half of the WFAN pre-show on a 1990s-era flip phone. When he was given the Governor’s Award at the Virtual New York Emmy Awards in April, he delivered an acceptance speech before a camera crew from the lobby of his apartment building, and this weekend will deliver the toast at a friend’s wedding via Zoom.
But he has no idea how any of these things work and has no inclination to learn.
“I’m a very unmechanical kind of person, but I’m good at DVR,’’ he said.
He’s been occupying his time without baseball by sleeping late, ordering in, taking long walks in the corridors of his apartment building, and watching (or re-watching) his favorite movies, which are almost exclusively old and in black-and-white.
Waldman, on the other hand, rises at 5:30 a.m. to walk the dogs, occasionally ventures out to the supermarket during ‘’senior hours’’ at 6 a.m., cooks all her own meals, and hits the sack by 9 p.m.
“You know all those things you say you would do if you had time?,’’ she said. “Like learning Spanish or catching up on some books? I haven’t done one of them.’’
Instead, she re-watched every episode of the Sopranos, re-trained herself to do her own hair and nails, and is in the process of rediscovering all the things “normal’’ people do in between baseball games.
“For the first time in years I got to see my daffodils bloom, and my tulips and my lilacs,’’ she said. “So this is that thing called summer that everyone talks about?’’
Sterling, along with others at WFAN, has taken a 20 percent pay cut in the absence of a baseball season. He’s not thrilled about the loss of money — “I’ve got four kids in college,’’ he said — but he’s even less thrilled about the loss of a baseball season for the first time since George H.W. Bush was president.
“I think this would have been a fabulous baseball season in New York,’’ he said. “The Yankees are really good and I think the Mets would have been really good, too. It would have been a very live summer in New York, with a lot of questions to be answered. And it hurts that we’re not going to get them answered.’’