John Sterling, play-by-play announcer of the New York Yankees, stands...

John Sterling, play-by-play announcer of the New York Yankees, stands with family members, Suzyn Waldman, and Yankees players, and holds a Yankees jersey with the number of Yankees baseball games he broadcast in his career. His retirement ceremony took place before a game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium on Saturday, April 20, 2024. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

For 36 seasons, John Sterling helped celebrate and elevate Yankees stars on radio play-by-play, as the host of TV documentaries and as an emcee for on-field ceremonies.

On Saturday, it was his turn.

The Yankees and their fans honored the team’s retiring lead radio voice, who had been on the job since 1989, before the Yankees’ 2-0, 10-inning loss to the Rays.

After thanking the Yankees and his longtime partners, Michael Kay and Suzyn Waldman, Sterling turned his attention to the fans.

“I’ve been here 36 years, and in that time, person after person, group after group have come to me with kindness, respect and love,” he said. “How lucky can you be for people to celebrate what you do for a living?”

Sterling was treated to a video highlighting many of his famous calls over the decades — especially his home run calls — as well as video tributes from former Yankees Paul O’Neill, Bernie Williams and Derek Jeter.

He was joined on the field by his four children and later by the entire current Yankees team. Fans gave Sterling a standing ovation and chanted his name.

Sterling visited the WFAN booth in the first inning and the YES Network booth in the second, but on both occasions he declined to do any farewell play-by-play.

His last game was on April 7, and he retired abruptly last Monday.

Sterling, 85, reiterated during a pregame news conference that he simply felt worn down by the logistics of the job.

“I retired because I just can’t do it,” he said. “I can do the games. The games are easy. Working with Suzyn is a lark. But I just don’t have the strength and stamina.”

Sterling noted that his first day as a professional broadcaster was Feb. 1, 1960.

“I’ve been on the air 64 years, and you know what? I’m really tired,” he said. “So I’m looking forward to not being on the air, which will start tomorrow.”

Sterling, who has had some health problems in recent years, said he realized it was time to stop after a season-opening trip to Houston and Arizona — the only long trip he planned to make this regular season.

If he could do it over, he said, he would have retired in March.

“We went to Houston and Arizona and boy, I knew that was it,” he said. “I didn’t want to work every day.”

Despite the seriousness of the moment, the tone of Sterling’s news conference was light. He spent it bantering with a room full of familiar media faces, cracked jokes and took good-natured jabs at figures from his past and present.

Waldman introduced him there, as she did later on the field, recalling her 20-year partnership and 37-year friendship with Sterling. He called her “the greatest partner in the world.”

Waldman thanked Sterling for being welcoming to her in an era when having a woman in her position was novel, saying she owes a lot to him.

Sterling recalled that his first personalized home run call was “Bern, baby, Bern!” for Bernie Williams, who in his video tribute said, “I was glad that I was the first of those famous home run calls . . . You’re the best, John. You will be missed.”

Asked to identify his own favorite home run call, Sterling mentioned “An A-bomb from A-Rod!” and “Robbie Cano, don’t ya know?”

He recalled the 1996 season, when the Yankees won their first championship of the late 1990s dynasty, as the most memorable in his long run.

Sterling, who earlier in his career called Islanders and Nets games, recalled when he first started with the Yankees in ’89.

“It was thrilling,” he said. “The exhibition games in my first year were thrilling. So I realized right away this is what I want and what I can do.”

Most of the games Sterling was scheduled to work this summer will be filled by his existing road-game fill-ins, Justin Shackil and Emmanuel Berbari.

What advice would he give them and other prospective successors?

“They’re both terrific young broadcasters,” he said. “Broadcast and then you’ll find your own way. You’ll find your style. So if that’s advice, that’s my advice.”

Sterling was presented a pinstriped jersey with his name on the back and the number 5,631 for the number of games he called for the Yankees. Another gift Sterling received was an 83-inch television, which will join the five he already has in his Edgewater, New Jersey, apartment. He mostly uses them to watch sports.

He said he plans to watch or listen to every Yankees and Mets game, as well as national ones, plus the NBA and NHL playoffs. “I’m a very busy person,” he said.

Sterling said he had heard from well-wishers across the country during the week, most recently a call from Joe Torre on his drive to the Bronx on Saturday.

He said he does not expect to miss coming to the ballpark. But many in the ballpark made it clear they will miss him.

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