Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton were not yet born. Aaron Boone was 16. The Yankees’ leading batter was Steve Sax.
Jacob deGrom was an infant. Mickey Callaway was 13. Howard Johnson led the Mets in batting average, home runs, RBIs and fielding errors.
It was 1989. Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web that year. The Berlin Wall fell. “The Simpsons” premiered.
And that season, the Yankees welcomed a new radio play-by-play voice: John Sterling. The Mets did the same in Gary Cohen. Thirty years later, both remain on the job, with Cohen having moved to TV in 2006.
That makes Sterling a newcomer on the Yankees beat.
Suzyn Waldman already had been covering them for two years by 1989, as a reporter for WFAN. She went to the YES Network as a reporter in 2002, then to the radio booth alongside Sterling in 2005.
Michael Kay began covering the team for the New York Post and later the Daily News in 1987, moved to radio alongside Sterling in 1992, then to YES as the TV play-by-play man in 2002.
Howie Rose called Mets games on TV from 1996 to 2003 and has been doing so on radio since 2004. Before that, he hosted Mets coverage on WFAN dating to the late ‘80s.
The moral of our story thus far: New York baseball currently has an unusually large number of voices who have been at it for an unusually long time.
This is not unique to baseball, of course. There are play-by-play men with lengthy terms all over the New York area, beginning with the current dean, the Rangers’ Sam Rosen.
But there is something about baseball that makes its longtime voices resonate more than in other sports.
“I just think that baseball is like you’re hanging out with friends,” Kay said. “The game is so long, especially on the radio more so than TV, because you take the radio with you to the beach, to the pool . . . I think you want to feel you’re part of a family, like you know those people.”
Home town: Bronx
Station: YES Network
Catchphrase: “See ya!”
Fun fact: Actor Danny Aiello is his uncle
Cohen said that in a sport where players, managers and even sometimes owners come and go, “broadcasters often can be the bridge across the upheaval of the franchise that fans maintain their loyalty to.
“Often, we are the institutional memory, as it were. I think it’s inherently a good thing. I think it provides a certain amount of comfort for fans who know what they’re going to get when they turn on their radio or TV.”
Said Waldman, “People, particularly in this world, they want continuity and want something they recognize. They don’t want change. Baseball to me is the one constant. It just keeps going. They can try to change the rules and they can try and put in a pitch clock, but basically it’s the same game.
“When you hear that voice in spring training, like the sound of the bat, I think people want that.”
Each generation has its iconic voices, from Mel Allen, Red Barber and Vin Scully to Phil Rizzuto, Bill White and Frank Messer to the Mets’ original trio of Ralph Kiner, Lindsey Nelson and Bob Murphy and later Tim McCarver.
Now here we are. Fans who are 15 or 25 or 35 today will wax nostalgic years from now about the summer sounds of their youths, and the careers of Sterling, Waldman, Kay, Cohen and Rose will live on through them.
They appreciate that, because they once were young fans, too.
“Growing up, to me in my house, there were four male voices: My father, Frank Messer, Bill White and Phil Rizzuto,” Kay, 58, said. “I grew up with those three guys as my entrée into baseball, making me love the Yankees.”
For Cohen, 60, and Rose, 65, being a young Mets fan meant listening to Kiner, Nelson and Murphy.
Home town: Queens
Catchphrase: “It’s outta here!”
Fun fact: Called Columbia soccer with analyst George Stephanopoulos.
“When I turned on my radio as a 6-year-old, as a 12-year-old, as a 15-year-old, I always knew I was going to hear one of those three voices, and that to me provided a great comfort level in terms of knowing: This is what the Mets sound like,” Cohen said.
Unlike the others, Waldman, 72, did not grow up in the New York area, and still has the Boston accent to prove it after a half-century here. So Red Sox voices such as Curt Gowdy, Ken Coleman and Ned Martin were her introduction, as was the ancient rivalry with the Yankees.
“Don’t forget, when I was brought up the Yankees and Red Sox played 22 times,” she said. “It was like your bad cousin coming up. I think there’s an intimacy about baseball that isn’t anyplace else.”
Home town: Newton, Mass.
Fun fact: Appeared in Broadway musicals, including “Man of La Mancha”
No baseball voice in New York is as polarizing as Sterling, 80, who frustrates some fans and critics with his at times less-than-precise descriptions — although cataract surgery last year helped — and delights others with his quirks, passion and home run calls.
But he said that in person, fans express nothing but appreciation.
“There isn’t a day goes by that I’m not approached by fans, and they’re all wonderful to me; they treat me with such respect and such kindnesses,” he said. “I’m sure if it happens to me, it happens to Michael and Suzyn and Gary and Howie.
“Now is that luck or what? Think how fortunate I am. The voices you mentioned have all done terrific jobs, and the biggest thing they’ve done is they’ve connected with their audience. That’s the biggest thing you can do.”
Sterling has not missed a game since late in the 1989 season, but the streak could end this June because of the high school graduation of his triplets.
“People are accustomed to the voice and sound of Suzyn and myself going back and forth,” he said. “Don’t forget that baseball has very little play-by-play, so there is a lot of time to get your thoughts across and be funny or whatever.”
Home town: Manhattan
Catchphrase: “It is high, it is far, it is gone!”
Fun fact: Father of 18-year-old triplets
Waldman rejected the notion that perhaps Sterling simply has worn down his critics over the decades.
“I think most people adore John,” she said. “We go places and he’s, like, lionized. I don’t know whether he wore them down or not. Everybody makes mistakes. I think he’s one of a kind. He’s unique.”
One advantage Yankees announcers have over their Queens counterparts is that there is no such thing as meaningless late-summer games for them.
Kay’s first season as a broadcaster was 1992. That was the last year the Yankees finished under .500. Along the way he called many memorable Derek Jeter moments on radio and television.
“Derek Jeter is one of the most iconic players of all time,” he said. “If there’s baseball a thousand years from now on ‘ESPN 1,000’ and they show a Jeter retrospective, they’ll have me screaming, ‘History, with an exclamation point!’ (after his 3,000th hit, a home run).
“So we’re kind of connected forever with these great Yankee teams, like Mel’s connected with Mantle and DiMaggio . . . This has been one of the magical times in Yankee history, and we’ve been lucky enough to chronicle it.”
Kay was quick to add he does not compare himself to Allen, saying, “Mel Allen is the ‘Voice of the Yankees.’ The rest of us, we’re just renting that title for a while.”
Perhaps, but younger fans might not be so sure. “There are people who know nothing on the Yankees side except Michael, John and me,” Waldman said.
Said Kay, “One of the biggest thrills of my life is when someone who’s 35 years old comes up to me — and 35 years old to me is an adult — and says, ‘You’re the only voice I’ve ever known for the New York Yankees.’ To me, that’s the biggest reward, to have this job and that they actually like you. It’s unbelievably cool.”
Waldman has proven that being a native is not a requirement for the job, but it doesn’t hurt.
“If you grow up as a diehard Mets fan and go off and begin your major league career as the voice of the Kansas City Royals,” Cohen said, “you can read and try and steep yourself in that lore all you want, but you’re not going to have the same granular understanding of not only what has happened in the franchise’s history, but how the people that you’re talking to think about the team.”
Said Rose, “Who would believe me if I said I didn’t care if the Mets win? It used to be, at least when I was breaking in, that you could never say that because there are people who wouldn’t be able to trust the veracity of what it is you’re delivering . . . I think that it has a certain cachet with the fans, because they feel they’re one of you, and vice versa.”
Home town: Queens
Catchphrase: “Put it in the books!”
Fun fact: Also has dabbled in hockey; see Matteau, Stephane
Kay added, “Horace Clarke and Jerry Kenney, that’s in my soul. I don’t have to look it up. I don’t have to read about it.”
There is no immediate end in sight for New York baseball’s longtime voices. Sterling has said his goal is to die in the booth.
“Time stretches as you get older,” Cohen said. “I think of Kiner, Murphy and Nelson as being the backbone of the broadcast, which they were, but they were there together for 17 years. Now I’ve been there for 30 years. It’s mindboggling.”
Said Rose, “When they start using the word ‘venerable’ as a prefix to your name, at best it means you’ve been around a while, and the hope is you’ll be around a little longer.”
None of this is good news for young announcers looking to enter the club. Wayne Randazzo, 34, will join Rose this season, but such chances are few and far between.
“I daydream a lot about living forever,” Kay said. “So if you live forever and you can be relatively healthy, would you be the ‘Voice of the Yankees’ for 150 years, where you just happened to luck out at the right time to get the job and then hold it for 150 years? I wonder if that’s in the cards.
“How many aspiring radio guys want to be John Sterling and they’re not going to get the chance to do it for the Yankees, because he’s been doing it for over 30 years? He might do another 30 years.”