Chance of John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman returning to WFAN in 2015? It is high!
There is only so much change that Yankees fans can be expected to handle at one time, what with a new shortstop on the horizon for the first time this millennium. So perhaps this will come as comforting news:
Barring a change of heart or health, John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman, both of whom have been around the team since before Derek Jeter was drafted, appear likely to return for at least one more season, their 11th together.
Sterling's position on this matter always has been clear. He said as recently as Monday: "I'm never going to retire. I don't understand why people would."
But the man primarily responsible for deciding whether Sterling stays in his current job is WFAN program director Mark Chernoff, and though he would not say so definitively, he gave no indication the radio duo's immediate future is in doubt.
"I don't really discuss contracts other than to say they are under contract to us for some length of time," he said.
That length of time is not believed to extend beyond 2015, but Sterling is 76 (although he will not admit or discuss it) and Waldman is 68, so this mostly is a year-to-year matter.
The Yankees do not have hiring or firing power over WFAN announcers, but they do have input and do not seem inclined to push for a change.
"I think John and Suzyn, they are iconic," team president Randy Levine said. "The way it works is it's up to FAN first and then they come to us, and like all our decisions, we take a look at it. But I love them. They're friends, they're great people and they're part of the Yankee brand."
Is Levine concerned about Sterling's infamous, sometimes troubling mistakes? "That's part of John," he said, laughing.
Indeed. And it says here that's mostly OK. Of course it would be nice if Sterling waited for balls to clear the fence before announcing home runs -- something for which he remains unapologetic, preferring, he says, to be ahead of calls rather than behind them.
It also would be helpful if he struck a better balance between shtick and game description, and if he let Waldman handle some play-by-play. (Either way, WFAN at some point ought to wedge a younger potential successor into the play-by-play mix to ease the future transition.)
But let's face it: After 26 seasons without missing a game, Sterling is woven into the fabric of Yankee-land, from his goofy antics to his signature home run calls. And like him or not, he will be missed when he is gone.
And let's face this, too: While Waldman herself is unconventional and subject to caricature, she also might be the only possible partner for Sterling at this stage. She is a team player who helps smooth the rough edges of Sterling's miscalls and patiently puts up with his idiosyncrasies.
"They've been together for a long time," Chernoff said. "They know each other's strengths and quirks and are able to work off of that."
Does their long tenure and, as Levine put it, "iconic" status factor into any evaluation of them? "Yes, absolutely it is a piece of the equation," Chernoff said.
Not that Chernoff is a fan of Sterling's errors. "Yes, I'm concerned when that happens," he said. "There is a lot going on in a game, and when I talk to John, I just remind him to focus on where that ball is going."
When the ball does not go the Yankees' way, Sterling is not shy about offering harsh, disgusted critiques.
"Both John and Suzyn will be critical if the Yankees are not playing well, but I love their enthusiasm when it looks like the Yankees are on their way to victory," Chernoff said. "They're an interesting and entertaining listen."
That is indisputable. Over the 162-game grind, give me quirky and unpredictable over blandly professional any day.
With the possible exception of WFAN colleague Mike Francesa, Sterling and Waldman are the most reliable lightning rods in New York sports media, and among its most fascinating personalities.
Sterling said he and White Sox announcer Ken Harrelson, who just turned 73, once mutually agreed to "keel over in the booth."
Let's hope that does not happen anytime soon, but it would be the ultimate bit of Sterling theatrics.
"Baseball is a tremendous grind," he said. "I love it and I get up for every game and so, the answer is I really do plan that I'm never going to retire. I figure as long as my voice is like this, I'm going to get a job on a radio station somewhere."
With Barbara Barker