“He has spawned more than 100 Web sites dedicated to denigrating his emblematic calls and his anomalous broadcasting style. He is the regular whipping boy of two New York tabloid sports media columnists. Radio talk-show hosts play tapes of his radio calls almost daily, frequently mocking his shtick and picking apart his missteps, whether they are misidentified players or a hasty, over-amped home run call on what ultimately became a long flyout.” Even if this post weren’t illustrated with the dashing good looks of longtime Yankees radio voice John Sterling, you’d know in an instant who the New York Times’ Bill Pennington was referring to in last Sunday’s paper. And while the Times’ headline, “Voice Of Yankees Draws High Ratings and Many Critics” is certainly accurate (how high might Sterling’s ratings be were he describing New York Islanders hockey?), Pennington deserves some credit for investigative journalism — he actually found a John Sterling fan on the internet.
Hart Seely is a co-founder of the blog It Is High, It Is Far, It Is …Caught. Seely calls himself a Sterling fan. He has for years taped each of Sterling’s broadcasts to mine nuggets of Sterling lingo and lore.
“Sometimes, John is like a caricature of a baseball announcer who would be on a TV sitcom,” Seely said. “I’ve often thought he could play himself on a TV sitcom and easily win an Emmy.
“But for the serious Yankees fan, he has a lot of appeal. Some people, most of them not Yankees fans, think that because the Yankees are a flagship franchise, they should have a network-level announcer who is never a homer. But the truth is, when the Yankees do something wrong, John rips them, like any psychotic Yankees fan. At the same time, like a true Yankees fan, when they win, John cannot control himself. The joy bursts from his breast.”
“Broadcasters usually skip over the little words,” Seely said. “It’s John Sterling’s nonplanned, nonsensical genius that he focuses all his energy on a forgotten word: the.”
Sterling does not own a computer, nor does he have Internet access on his cellphone. He shuns most modern digital or interactive conveniences.
When the most biting criticisms of his work were read aloud to him as he sat in a mezzanine-level lounge at Yankee Stadium last week, he looked offended, even hurt, although he responded flatly: “That’s nice, isn’t it?”
Sterling conceded that he once took negative comments more personally. “I wanted to punch the guy’s face off,” he said. But as he has endured and prospered — with a radio contract, expiring this year, that pays him about $375,000 with ancillary income of nearly $100,000 — he has handled disparaging remarks with more aplomb.
“You would like everybody to love you,” he said. “That’s not possible in life.”