The following are excerpts from David J. Halberstam’s ‘Sports On New York Radio : A Play-By-Play History’ (Masters Press, 1999)
“John is a piece of work,” says TNT announcer Bob Neal. “He’s got a great voice in the studio and when he got to Atlanta in the 1980’s, John certainly made his mark doing telephone talk.” Neal chuckled recalling the day that he worked a football game with him. They were staying on the same floor of a hotel and the two were scheduled to meet at a prescribed time in the lobby. On his way down the hallway to the elevator, Neal noticed that the door to Sterling’s room was open. He knocked on his door, entered the room, and thought they might go downstairs together. Sterling was dressed, standing and talking on the telephone. Not wanting to disturb him, Neal motioned to Sterling that he would meet him downstairs. “Hold on, I’ll go with you,” Sterling snapped abrubtly, unflinchingly hanging up the phone. “I didn’t mean to cut short your conversation,” the gentlemanly Neal tells John. “Oh, don’t worry about it. I wasn’t talking to anyone, I was just practicing my voice.” Neal thought he had heard it all. Sterling might be the only sportscaster who talks to himself on the telephone.
It was January 1962 and Ralph had been asked to do interviews with golfers at the Bing Crosby National Pro-Am. On the eve of the tourney, Kinger got a call from George Weiss, the Mets’ first president. He asked Ralph whether he would have any interest in joining the Mets’ broadcast team. The affable 6-foot 2-inch Hall of Famer gave Weiss an unequivocal yes. Weiss told Kiner that he and J. Walter Thompson’s Norm Varney would be watching his performance on the national telecast of the Pro-Am.
What followed was comedic, if not frightful. Ralph was about to do his last segment. He was about to interview Gay Brewer and Phil Harris, a bandleader and comedian. Turning to Haris, Kiner said, “Phil, you know Gay Brewer, don’t you?” Harris responded, “Gay Brewer? I thought he was a fag winemaker from Modesto.”
Kiner was stunned but didn’t stagger. He handled it very smoothly and completed his segment unruffled. But he thought it was over. The Mets would never consider him after this ugly incident.