Sterling was memorable Islanders voice before making mark with Yankees 


Though most of the civilized sports world knows John Sterling as His Lordship, broadcasting Yankees baseball on the radio since 1989, my relationship with the fine gentleman and master of his art took place over ice.

So when the 85-year-old announced Monday he was retiring from broadcasting due to health reasons my mind went to the ice, not a baseball diamond.

It was in the 1972-73 hockey season when I first heard him warbling about puck-handlers. And, of all things, I was pushing a baby carriage along the snow-covered Columbia University campus on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

This was the first season of World Hockey Association action and — believe it or not — the NHL Rangers had WHA competition at The World’s Most Famous Arena.

The team was called the New York Raiders — not a bad club at that — and they occasionally played on weekend afternoons at The Garden.

At the time I was wheeling my older son, Ben, in his carriage along the college sidewalk while listening to John do his WHA play-by-play. In fact, I vividly recall enjoying Sterling’s call so much that I stopped at the college entrance and just hung out with my son until the game was over.

I marveled at the excitement John created for a brand-new team that hardly any of us had known. But he brought the Raiders to life and I just loved his calls.

That maiden WHA proved to be Sterling’s steppingstone to eventually doing Islanders radio play by play, and that’s when our friendship blossomed. I was covering the Isles on the print side and John at the electronic end.

And that’s where we got to know each other — in the press cafeteria and the press box. For me, John was the perfect schmoozer — and for the young team in Uniondale — the ideal salesman.

I remember the moment when I first heard him put his inimitable verbal stamp on the action. Isles captain Eddie Westfall had just lit the red light behind the opposition net when the voice reverberated over the airwaves:

“ISLANDER GOAL! ISLANDER GOAL! ISLANDER GOAL” Sterling would shout after every goal. It was an inimitable call and, before long, followers of Al Arbour’s club would imitate him, the same as kids would when he did his baseball shtick.

One of my wishes — although I never thought it would be realized — was to sit side by side doing “color” with John. And then it happened.

It was April 28, 1979, when the Rangers upset the favored Isles in the playoffs in six games.

As I recall we worked Game 2 at Nassau Coliseum when Denis Potvin scored a winning goal for the Nassaumen. I can say with assurance that it was a memorable broadcasting experience for The Maven. Call it a personal once-in-a-lifetime moment.

You would have loved it too, when the air was split with the one and only John Sterling blaring “ISLANDER GOAL, ISLANDER GOAL, ISLANDER GOAL.”

I only worked that one game with John but it was unforgettable for a couple of reasons: 1. He knew his stuff; 2. He was such a great guy as a human being; a fun fellow who had the knack for making me smile.

Frankly, I don’t mind saying I loved that man, John Sterling, the broadcaster’s broadcaster!

Top photo: John Sterling and his longtime radio partner Suzyn Waldman in the Yankees radio both. The broadcaster announced his retirement on Monday. Before calling baseball, he once worked as the voice of the Islanders.

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