John Sterling has called 4,453 consecutive Yankees games on the radio. It’s a streak that spans 28 baseball seasons and has remained intact through the birth of four children, bouts with food poisoning and countless colds.
Sterling’s ironman run — the exact number was calculated by a Newsday reporter — almost ended this season, he said recently, because he was prepared to take a personal day to attend his oldest daughter’s high school graduation in June.
But in a fortuitous scheduling twist, Sterling said the ceremony fell on a Yankees day off when the team was home, preserving one of the more impressive and perhaps lesser-known streaks in all of sports.
A Yankees radio announcer since 1989, Sterling certainly has his well-documented quirks. His casual style draws criticism from some, but those whose opinions matter the most — the highest-ranking Yankees executives — remain big Sterling fans.
“John is the Lou Gehrig of radio,” Yankees president Randy Levine said. “A great Yankee Hall of Famer.”
Sterling recently said Levine once stopped him in the press box midway through a game a decade ago and praised the announcer for his work ethic, talking about how he never misses a game.
Sterling said he told Levine, “You know what, Randy? I don’t think anyone gives a damn, but miss a game!?”
To Sterling, that’s unthinkable.
Before joining the Yankees’ radio broadcast team, Sterling called Atlanta Hawks and Braves games for Turner from 1981-89. Sterling said he also called Hawks games during his first offseason with the Yankees, but the scheduling didn’t work out. In the 1970s, he was a sports talk host on New York airwaves for WMCA and also called New York Nets games for six years and Islanders games for four years.
To find the last time a Yankees game was played without Sterling in the radio booth, you’d have to go back to September 1989 — before many of the current Yankees players were born.
Although Sterling often has said he’s never missed a game as Yankees announcer, he acknowledged in a recent interview that he did in fact miss two games in September 1989 to attend his sister’s funeral.
Sterling said he is comfortable omitting those games while discussing his run covering every game with the Yankees “because I didn’t miss games. I had to bury my poor darling sister.”
That occurred toward the end of his first year with the Yankees while doing a job he dreamed about as a youngster growing up in Manhattan. Sterling said he hasn’t missed a Yankees game since.
There are no official records for consecutive games called by a team’s radio broadcaster, but if there’s a longer streak than Sterling’s 4,286 straight regular-season games and 167 postseason games, no one has found it.
The only one close was Tom Cheek, the late Toronto Blue Jays broadcaster who called 4,306 straight regular-season games and 41 playoff games. His streak ended in 2004 when he missed a game for his father’s funeral. A spokesman for the National Baseball Hall of Fame said the only mention they have of a broadcaster’s streak is for Cheek, who won the Frick Award for broadcasters in 2012.
Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully is considered to have the longest tenure with a team, having been with them for 67 years. He’s 88 and retiring after this season. A Dodgers spokesman said the team is not aware of any streak of consecutive games called accumulated by Scully during those many years. “He missed games regularly once he joined NBC in 1976,” Dodgers spokesman Joe Jareck said. “I’m told he very rarely missed a game from 1958-75, but there is not a documented streak.”
Still, the streak is not what motivates Sterling.
“I don’t think about it,” he said. “It’s not like I’m saying every day, ‘Oh, I’m adding to the streak.’ I don’t know what number it is. I’m not a numbers guy. I love what I do.”
Sterling, who declines to reveal his age but is believed to be about 78, plans to keep going as long as the Yankees will let him.
“What matters is how old do you feel,” he said. “I feel 36, 37, 38.”
There certainly have been close calls that jeopardized the streak, from illnesses to life-changing moments.
Sterling said his triplets were born during the morning of a Yankees playoff game in 2000, allowing him just enough time to make it to the ballpark for an afternoon start. He said he passed out cigars on the Yankees’ charter flight to Seattle after the game — a comeback victory, he added.
Then there’s the time in Boston in 2006 when he came down with a case of food poisoning during what proved to be the longest nine-inning game in baseball history, a game that lasted 4 hours, 45 minutes.
“Can you imagine?” he said with a chuckle.
Suzyn Waldman, Sterling’s radio partner since 2005, said she once mentioned to baseball’s famous ironman, Cal Ripken Jr., how lucky he was to never have come down with a migraine or a fever right before a game.
She said Ripken responded, “How do you know I didn’t?”
“I was taken aback,” Waldman said. “You have to have a passion for it. You have to love it . . . And John doesn’t miss games.”
Sterling’s first partner on a Yankees radio broadcast was Jay Johnstone, the former major-leaguer who played for eight teams, including the Yankees, during his 20-year career. They were together for only two years in the booth, but he says he still remembers the excitement Sterling showed during games.
“After games, he had a saying,” Johnstone said. “He would turn to me and say, ‘You know what? I really love doing this.’ ”
And nearly 30 years later, he’s still doing the same job, day after day — and still really loving it.
“It is amazing,” Sterling said. “Isn’t it?”