John Sterling’s Broadcasting Gaffes No Minor Problem

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
Sterling watches a double play take place before calling it as a foul ball during a game against the Orioles in 2012 David Richard USA TODAY Sports

If you are even remotely a baseball fan, then you know the Legend of John Sterling. The long-time Yankees homer has become known for, well, his botched calls of homers. And other plays. So it comes as no surprise that only a week into the new season Sterling already screwed up a big call.

In the fifth inning of Monday’s game, Derek Jeter hit a hard line drive down the left field line. It hit three-quarters of the way up the wall and Jeter ended up at second with a double. Pretty standard stuff.

But it must not have been exciting enough for Sterling. His call was for an entirely different play.

Swung on and drilled to deep left! It is high! It is far! It is gone! No! It goes off the wall, and Jeter heads toward second. And he is there with a double. It hit off the top of the wall and came back. So Jeter electrifies the crowd. A near home run. A double off the top of the wall, and he’s at second.

Got that? It was a home run. Then it wasn’t. Then it was the near home run that electrified the crowd.

So, to try to help climb out of the hole Sterling had dug, sidecar rider Suzyn Waldman decided to jump in.

If this is in June, that’s in the second deck.

No, Suzyn. No it’s not. That ball never had a chance at the second deck, unless they happen to have a scheduled June game for the Sea of Tranquility. Even at its peak, somewhere in shallow left field, the ball was never high enough. Maybe in June that ball makes the second row of Section 132. Maybe.

And herein lies the problem. This is radio. Sterling is the eyes for thousands of people who aren’t watching the game. The idea is for a broadcaster to paint the picture of what’s happening at the stadium. Too often when Sterling paints, it’s not with the right brush. Then Waldman is stuck trying to clarify what actually happened without completely throwing her partner under the bus.

It would be one thing if this was an isolated incident. It’s not. Several times a season you can count on Pa Yankee to provide a real brain teaser.

Who can forget Mystery Baseball Theater 2013?

That ball is high! It is far! It is gone! Over the right-center field wall. Oh, it hit and kicked over. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I got that all wrong. I got that all wrong. At the wall, Davis made the catch. Honestly, I didn’t think he made it. I thought he gave up on the ball that’s why I thought it was out.

Better not leave out this gem, either.

And here’s Casey McGehee to lead it off. He popped up to the catcher his first time time. And cuts and misses. No, he cuts and hits a fly ball down the left field line and the ball is foul. McGehee is heading toward second as the throw comes in, and he’s staying at second. So he, the ball went down the left field line. It must have hit in, kicked in the seats for a grounds rule double.

A swing and miss foul fly ball down the left field line that goes for a “grounds rule double”. Go ahead loyal radio listener. Picture that. It’s impossible to know exactly what that play was. That’s because it was a one-hopper down the line that got by the bag and into the corner. That’s not at all what Sterling would have had you believe.

How is this fair, or even enjoyable, for an audience? It’s not. Sterling makes listeners put together a verbal Rubik’s Cube on far too many plays.

So, enough is enough already. It is the principle job of a broadcaster to smoothly and accurately describe the action on the field. This does nothing to speak of his broadcasting style, which is often grating in itself with the self-serving circus of nicknames and catchphrases. But when the details of the game become muddled, the other idiosyncrasies become magnified.

Sterling is baseball’s version of the Heidi Game. You know something big is happening, but you have no way of knowing just what that is. At least with the Heidi Game, though, changes were made because of it. It’s time a change is made with Sterling, too.

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