The Retired Club

This is about two sports broadcasters who have retired within weeks.

They join me as a pair of play-by-play men who have done it for a long time and are now moving into the next phase of their lives.

My feeling is that most of you have never heard of either one.

That’s okay.

It’s more about how the two stayed consistent in their styles, their longevity, and their acceptance by their audiences.

If you’re familiar with sports in Boston or New York, who not only know them, you probably spent years, even decades listening to their delivery of the doings of two of your favorite teams.

They are, in fact, the lifeblood of what you relied on, depended on, and looked forward to their many broadcasts.

Local voices, it’s what sports on the air is really all about.

I know, because it represents what mattered to me growing up.

Mike Gorman has retired after a 50-year career, the last 43 as the TV voice of the Boston Celtics.

Yes, the Celtics are still playing, they’re into the Eastern Conference semis of the NBA playoffs. But now the networks exclusively take over, which is something we’ll deal with later.

John Sterling did every inning of every Yankee game on radio until last year.

He called it quits shortly after this season began, saying he had enough.

Gorman is 76, Sterling will turn 86 July 4th.

I know both of these gentlemen, John better than Mike, but since I spent more time working in Boston than in New York, I am just as aware of Gorman’s impact on his community as Sterling’s.

Mike began with the Celtics in 1981, teaming with ex-Celtics Hall of Fame player and coach Tom Heinsohn until 2020.

Heinsohn, was my partner on our CBS network broadcasts for four years.

But the Gorman-Heinsohn duo formed one of the longest tandems in pro sports history, 39 years. Heinsohn passed away in November 2020, and former Celtic Brian Scalabrine took over as the color commentator.

Having worked virtually all of my career as a television voice, I have learned the keys to making a two-man team successful.

The first is allowing the expert the room he needs to analyze the game to his liking. As I’ve urged every partner I ever had in every sport, basically I do the Who and What, you do the Why and How.

As the reporter at the broadcast table, I have no credibility in telling the audience “why” something happened, or “how” it was done.

Sure, there are things you see that you know, but your partner is there for that explanation.

The role of the play-by-play announcer is to give the facts, set the stage, and tell the story of the game.

The two should work hand-in-hand, and Mike and Tom did that brilliantly.

The fact that they had two distinct personalities were a plus when they broadcast.

Heinsohn was always a rough, strongly opinionated man who was so emphatic with his views. It was up to Gorman to often settle the broadcast down, bring the mood back, and go from there.

This is not a knock on Heinsohn, who was one of the best ever to do his job because he had passion, belief, and authority in his delivery.

But it was Gorman who had to orchestrate the calling of every game, not just thinking of his comments, but how the team sounded and treated each game overall.

Boston fans were comforted when the two took to the air, just as viewers in every city and town in America feel when they watch their favorite anchorman and news channel deliver the days happenings.

After Mike made his retirement plans known when the Celtics completed their first round victory over the Miami Heat, he revealed that he had lost touch with the game.
That was an honest, and heartfelt comment.

After so many years of doing game after game, there comes a time when you see how it’s changed, how you’ve changed, and it hits you to finally step away from the travel, the prep, and all that goes into doing what seems like a simple job, more intense than it looks.

Frankly, I feel I’ve never worked a day in my life, but I did work, and work hard. The difference was, it was enjoyable to do. Never was it a chore.

I know that’s how Mike Gorman feels.

He had one misgiving of which I am in total agreement.

In the NBA, when the playoffs reach the semi-finals, the networks, in this case ESPN and TNT take over.

That’s wrong. I know the big boys pay huge money for the exclusive rights, but to shut out the locals who appeal to their particular audience when the games have the most meaning doesn’t make sense.

Having been a network announcer for all but four seasons with the Red Sox, three with the Oakland A’s, and three with the San Antonio Spurs, I know the local voices know their teams better than those who fly in to do a network game.

I realized it when I was honored to be selected to represent the Red Sox in the 1975 World Series. I may have been a 32-year old first year Boston TV commentator, but as the Series moved along, I realized I had a deeper knowledge of my team than did Joe Garagiola, or even Tony Kubek, who were far more advanced in baseball than I was, but had to cover many more teams in both leagues.

There were things I knew from my day-to-day dealings with the club that outsiders could never know.

Curt Gowdy was the chief NBC baseball figure, but he lived in a Boston suburb, and had been a long-time local Red Sox announcer, so my thoughts on outsiders coming in did not apply to him.

John Sterling did radio.

That meant he did most of the talking on his games. He did have a booth partner in Suzyn Waldman, but John did every inning of every game.

It was his game. And did he ever make it that way.

He spiced up his calls with various patented, and sometimes outrageous declarations. When the Yankees won , he would shout, “the Yankees win, thuuugh Yankees win”.  He would string out the word “the” to the extent you were concerned about his well-being.

That was, until you heard it every time.

When a long drive sailed out of the park, he would say, “it is high, it is far, it is gone”.

Sometimes, he would make that call even if a ball bounced off the wall, or was even caught by an outfielder.

Yes, John had his critics, and yes, he was off-the-mark at times, but he was John Sterling and he had his style, which reflected on him, and a great majority of Yankee fans loved it.

In the 1990’s when outfielder Bernie Williams would hit a home run, John would call out, “burn baby burn”.

For Alex Rodriguez, “ A-bomb from A-Rod”.

For Robinson Cano, “Robbie Cano, don’t you know’.

Sterling would also interject lyrics from Broadway shows and other iconic standards. He would actually sing some of them.

I got to be friends with John way back when I broadcast Red Sox games and he was the voice of the hockey Islanders. Even then he would spice up his calls with “Islander goal, Islander goal, Islander goal, Islander goal”, whenever they scored.  Yes, he would repeat it at least four times.

I lived in New York in the off-season, and we would meet for dinner, or tennis frequently. We would have a weekly early dinner for prime rib in midtown Manhattan, then go to our respective apartments to watch Monday Night Football. We would then chat on the phone during the game and have fun with Howard Cosell’s pronouncements.

John Sterling was extremely knowledgeable about all the sports he broadcast, he knew the game inside-out.

He also was passionate about theatre and music.

As Suzyn Waldman stated, John Sterling was “one of a kind”

He certainly was. And is.

When he retired, he said he didn’t have the strength and stamina to continue. He said he was tired.

But he isn’t slowing down, that I know.

He’s a genuine optimist, who, at 86 to be, has so much to do, including watching the Yankees and all the sports.

Good for him.

That’s something, except for select NFL games, I don’t do anymore.

Golf and tennis? That’s another story.

Sooner or later, we advance to the next phase.

I have, and I love it.

Now Mike Gorman and John Sterling are doing the same.

Hat’s off to two different, but equally, legends in their cities and their sports, who did it for a long, long time.