Tuesday, February 26, 2013

With sunset on the horizon, John Sterling - the last Voice of the Yankees - is working all this A-Rod stuff out in his head

In early 1964, after he cracked up on the air during the Yankees' World Series debacle against Koufax and Drysdale, announcer Mel Allen - the Voice of the Yankees for more than 22 years - was abruptly shown the door. He had given the organization everything, and in return, the ownership spread rumors of booze, uppers and homosexuality, and threw him overboard like a rotting piece of liver. Later, Red Barber, his longtime partner, wrote in his memoir that, on the matter of Mel, the wealthy Yankee owners simply did not understand what it is to work for a living.

This weekend, from the Jeep-driven bully pulpit of Tampa, John Sterling - the modern reincarnation of Mel Allen - delved into the A-Rod mess and, you might say, glimpsed everyone's future, including his own. Bob Raissman of the Daily News captured it.  (Ma is Suzyn Waldman)

"But they (MLB officials) have to prove all this,” Sterling said. “It’s got to be proven.”
Ma wanted to get a word in. Smoke was coming out of her ears. We imagined we saw it on the radio. “Yes, John, but you’ve got to wonder what they (A-Rod, Francisco Cervelli and others) were doing there in the first place,” she said.
They went back and forth on this for a while. During the exchanges they never mentioned Rodriguez by name. They didn’t have to. You knew it was all about him. Their tone was drenched in disgust.
Waldman recounted a comment Mark Teixeira made at a recent charity event. “He said, ‘I want to talk baseball,’” Waldman said. “ ‘But every time a fan comes up to me all they want to talk about is steroids. I’m sick of it.’”

Suzyn should brace herself. We all should. This season, A-Rod will be our Lord Voldemort, the vile presence who lurks everywhere but must not be mentioned by name. Frankly, we are accumulating a bunch of taboo topics: Michael Pineda, Jesus Montero, Russell Martin, Nick Swisher, Raphael Soriano, maybe Francisco Cervelli and maybe even Robbie Cano. Any excitement over Melky Mesa - a Kevin Maas-level prospect, at best - will not outshine the pain this 2013 team is about to inflict upon the couple that Raissman derisively - (maybe lovingly, not sure) - calls Ma and Pa.

In today's column, Raissman seems surprised that John would raise the specter of A-Rod in an exhibition game. That's a swing and miss: Sterling talks for a living, and no such person completely avoids juicy topics like A-Rod. John talks about everything. And like Mel Allen before him, the Master feels Yankee pain like few others in this physical world. I think he genuinely grieves for A-Rod. He might be the last person on the planet to feel that way.

People love or hate Sterling and generally discolor whatever he says with their own bias. It comes with the job. But this we know: He loves the Yankees. And one of these days, they're going to break his heart.

You can see it coming. The one-year contracts. The hideous deluge of in-game ads. The lack of a third voice. The guy must be pushing 70 - (he keeps his age secret, but do the math) - yet still calls every inning of every game. He's never missed one. They're not giving him or Suzyn any respite. They're hanging them out to dry, and when the Yankees fall apart this summer - seriously, does anyone see it differently? - Sterling will be a convenient presence standing blindfolded on the plank, walking toward the sound of water.

Love him or hate him, the days are growing shorter - not longer - for the Voice of the Yankees. Be it a blessing or a curse, we won't see another one like him in our lifetimes. Nobody will ever suffer a Yankee defeat on-air the way John Sterling has for the last 20 years. But one thing will not change.

The owners. They'll never understand what it's like to work for a living.


I'm Bill White said...

Kevin Maas played 1B instead of Mattingly (DH) my first game at the Stadium. I was very disappointed. And there was a rain delay.

el duque said...

Maybe we should start calling him "Melky Maasa?"

I'm Bill White said...

That's how nicknames are born.

SanJoseKid said...

Slightly off topic, Duque, but exactly what happened when Mel "cracked up" on the air? Does Halberstam's book explain this? Didn't Ralph Houk give no reason at all? Dan Topping & the boys clammed up, too. Did Allen say something anti-Yankee?

el duque said...

His life was shattered.

Could you call the final innings of the Yankees being swept when your heart has been broken?

SanJoseKid said...

The mystery surrounding his dismissal, and the rumors, must have made it unbearable, yes. I just don't remember it clearly (unfortunately, I DO remember Reagan's speech to the Republican convention that summer). Best announcers, though, in my opinion: Dizzy Dean and Joe Garagiola, who teamed up Saturday mornings for the Game of the Week (usually broadcast from the Bronx, Whitey Ford followed by Luis Arroyo).

el duque said...

I always felt bad about Mel Allen. I was just a kid, but I couldn't understand how the Yankees would do that to him. When I imagined how terrible he must be feeling, it made me sad.

Anonymous said...

Sterling also said: "In 10 years they will discover a drug called Festeris that will make everyone amazons.”

I'm guessing show tune reference, but seriously, what the hell is he talking about?

Anonymous said...

Without saying he wouln't be back, Allen gave a farewell address on the air at the end of the Yanks' last regular season game in 1964. Yanks had clinched pennant the day before, so most baseball fans in NY were watching the Cardinals plays the Mets -- if the Cards won, they'd win the pennant. Not me, though; I couldn't get enough of the Yankees and was watching what was in effect an exhibition game. Allen said something like, "Love 'em or hate 'em, you have to admit . . ." Even as a kid, I knew something was up. I'd love to read what he said, or hear it again, but I can't find it. Stephen Borelli doesn't mention it in How About That!, his biography of Allen.

el duque said...

Wow. That must have been emotional, especially if Mel knew it was coming. That would explain a lot of things - in fact - that could even explain his meltdown in the 1964 World Series.

I've always assumed the Yankees were embarrassed by Mel's inability to talk, as his heroes were collapsing. I wouldn't be able to talk. I figured that was the last straw, and they shoved him out the door, a broken man.

But what if he knew in advance? That would create an entirely different scenario. No less painful for him, though. His heart was broken, and so were Yankee fans' hearts everywhere, by what happened. Poor Mel.