John Sterling honored by Yankees for 36 seasons as radio voice

John Sterling says his goodbye as the Yankees radio voice (1:35)

Legendary announcer John Sterling says goodbye after 36 seasons as the radio voice of the Yankees. (1:35)

NEW YORK -- John Sterling's time as the play-by-play radio voice of the New York Yankees, a memorable 36-year run to conclude a 64-year career, officially ended Saturday at Yankee Stadium.

Sterling took the field for a pregame ceremony with his family to a roll call that spread from the right-field bleachers to the rest of the ballpark. He received video messages from former Yankees greats Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams and Paul O'Neill. He was presented with gifts, including an 83-inch television and a Yankees home jersey with the number 5631 -- the total number of Yankees games he called on the radio.

Finally, Suzyn Waldman, his radio partner since 2005, introduced Sterling to the crowd. Sterling thanked the Steinbrenner family. He thanked Michael Kay and Waldman, his partners over the past three decades. Lastly, he thanked the fans.

"How lucky can you be," Sterling said, "for people to celebrate what you do for a living?"

Sterling, 85, stepped into the Yankees' radio booth in 1989 after nine years broadcasting Atlanta Braves and Atlanta Hawks games. He called 24 postseasons and seven World Series. He narrated the Yankees' dynastic run in the 1990s, the final game at the old Yankee Stadium, Jeter's 3,000th hit and Aaron Judge's 62nd home run. But he said Saturday's celebration stood alone in his professional life.

"I never, ever dreamt that I'd be recognized," Sterling said. "I told my boss earlier this might be the biggest day of my life -- outside of marrying Jennifer, of course."

Sterling spoke at a news conference Saturday before the Yankees' 2-0, 10-inning loss to the Tampa Bay Rays in front of a sellout crowd. He was, per usual, quirky and unfiltered.

He took a playful jab at Yankees manager Aaron Boone -- "Is this where Boonie says, 'I think he's getting close?'" -- and recited stories off-the-cuff.

Sterling said his favorite season was 1996 when the Yankees won their first championship in 18 years because the team exceeded expectations. He explained he didn't intend to invent a signature home run call for every player, that it just mushroomed after he came up with "Bern, Baby, Bern" for Williams.

He recalled falling in love with the craft "before puberty" and bluntly explained his reasoning for retiring so abruptly less than a month into the season.

Sterling knew it was time to retire while on the club's road trip through Houston and Arizona to open the season. He called the Yankees' first home series, but he had already made his decision.

"I did it all wrong," Sterling said. "I should've quit on March 1 or March 15. But I decided I'd do one exhibition game, which was useless. As you well know. And then we went on that long trip. We went to Houston and Arizona. Boy, I knew that was it. I didn't want to work every day. And I told you how long I've been working. If you work 64 years and on your next birthday you're going to be 86, I think it's time."

A native of Manhattan's Upper East side, Sterling called 5,420 Yankees regular-season games and 211 Yankees playoff games. His victory call -- "Theeeee Yankees win" -- became synonymous with the franchise's run of success in the 1990s and 2000s.

He was in the booth for 5,060 straight games from September 1989 to July 2019 when he missed a series with an illness. He had taken on a reduced role in recent seasons and traveled less often because of health concerns. His final game on the call was the Yankees' 8-3 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on April 7.

On Saturday, he joined both the YES Network television booth alongside Kay and the WFAN radio booth alongside Waldman. Now, he said, he will happily watch games from his home in New Jersey.

"I'm not going to miss coming to the ballpark," Sterling said. "I don't think so. I'm going to love watching and listening, I really am. I really know what I'm going to do. And I'm going to enjoy it."