Brent Musburger and John Sterling
If it’s not one nonconformist it’s another.
Brent Musburger is one of the smartest guys I know. He’s gutsy and not afraid to offer up snap, sharp opinions. Radio play-by-play hasn’t been his strength. ESPN miscast him in the network’s early years of its NBA rights. His commentary couldn’t keep up with the action. Yet he was passionate. You wouldn’t label Brent a Chick Hearn, Joe Tait, Marty Glickman or Marv Albert. On radio, he was your honest friend at the game. He simply wasn’t a rapid-fire play-by-play broadcaster.
He was always better on television. He built an audience for CBS’s The NFL Today, among other programs and could stir it up as well as anyone. The studio was Brent’s stage. He would irritate viewers with incisive commentary. When he took to social media last weekend to announce he would not return for a fourth season with the Raiders, his comments seemed angry, but he never stated he was fired. The fact was: The club never said anything. But he apparently over-engaged his vocal spirit in the Jon Gruden affair.
Now comes another story. This fellow who soon turns 84, John Sterling, is about a year older than Musburger. Brent always has had an edge. Sterling is popular because he’s a longtime survivor: 34 years in the Yankees’ broadcast booth.
That huckleberry, the beloved Phil Rizzuto, spent 40 years with the club.
Few colleagues, fans or pundits would sing Sterling’s praises for softness and rhythm— and certainly not for his accuracy, flawlessness or precision. John didn’t do any baseball play-by-play until he landed in Atlanta in the early ’80s. He has survived so long that he’s turned into Johnny Most in his final years with the Celtics.
Don’t get me wrong, Most was an excellent broadcaster, having trained under Marty Glickman with the Knicks in the 1950s. But he became somewhat of a clown in his final years. He was failing to live up to his own legend.
New York Audacy radio executive Chris Oliviero knows that with Sterling behind the Yankees mic, he is forcing fans to keep pace with the gibberish. Oliviero knew he had to make some changes. The Yankees are having a spectacular season. He likely had to convince team management to agree to have John scale back his work for the rest of this season. Home games only? John apparently tried to push back. Finally, he squeezed in some road games in nearby Baltimore and Boston. He’ll do all post-season games.
In an interview with WFAN’s Craig Carton and Evan Roberts, Sterling acted stubbornly about not wanting to limit his schedule, stating that when he did basketball (Atlanta Hawks) or hockey (New York Islanders), he worked alone, calling every play. Getting along with colleague-announcers has not been a strength of his. His home-team rooting is generally annoying, to understate. It’s a habit more “at home” in smaller Midwest markets. Not New York.
So, let me ask, what is there to like about Sterling’s broadcast? Occasionally, he can be funny. He and partner Suzyn Waldman enjoy discussing the delights of Broadway. John doesn’t overdo analytics or numbers. If there’s something he does extremely well it’s to read a scripted commercial. In all the years I’ve listened to him, he reads spots flawlessly, whether drop-ins or 30- or 60- second commercial announcements.
Now he appears to be feeling the push. On the Carton and Roberts show over WFAN, he defended himself: “Veteran announcers take time off,” he said, invoking Mets names like Gary Cohen and Howie Rose. “And Vin Scully, too.” Did Sterling say Scully? The FAN talkies assured him his voice is still so strong. Little humility from John; his baritone remains a strength, but his one-time partner Charlie Steiner’s was arguably better.
Flash back to the bottom of the 11th inning in the 2003 ALCS against the Red Sox: The leadoff batter was Yankees third baseman Aaron Boone. It was Charley Steiner’s turn at the mic, but John gave his partner no space. Steiner was gifted with this classic moment. But Sterling’s selfishness was showing. When it was time for John to introduce Charley back to the mic as knuckleballer Tim Wakefield took the mound, Sterling was slow to budge. Charley had to jump over Sterling to call the legendary home run by Aaron F. Boone, as he’s known in Boston circles.
When Sterling came along in 1989, his boothmates were, in rough order of succession, Jay Johnstone, Joe Angel, Michael Kay and Steiner.
The 2003 moment had eaten at John to no end. He considered himself the Voice of the Yankees and felt that he should never lose an opportunity as big as the Boone moment again. (Rizzuto left)
The 2004 season passed — and after that Steiner would be gone as far as that classic Boone blast of 2003. Suzyn Waldman got the sidekick gig and John had what he wanted. Every inning. Steiner caught on with the Dodgers.
From critic Don Haley after a story by Andrew Marchand of the New York Post:
I listened to John call a game over the MLB app during a long road trip recently and found I was repeatedly thinking my cell connection was cutting out. Too much dead air. On the radio, that’s not a good thing. When the audio fades, listeners are set adrift.
Red Barber and Mel Allen — along with the other greats of baseball’s radio era — threaded their broadcasts with anecdotes that would fill in between pitches. (Of course, the time between pitches back then wasn’t the full 20 seconds, but you get what I mean.)
Vin Scully, for another and perhaps the best of the modern era, always seemed prepared to keep up the pace when a lull in the action occurred.
John seems either too tired or too lazy (I doubt the latter, but one can only judge from what one isn’t hearing) to keep listeners engaged.