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Voices of the Yankees: the good, the bad, and the ugly

Tiresome ex-warriors, miscast ex-reporters, and entertaining ex-pitchers: Keith R.A. DeCandido breaks down the various voices that cover the Yankees on YES and WCBS.

a rare photo of John Sterling with his mouth closed
a rare photo of John Sterling with his mouth closed
David Richard-US PRESSWIRE

Because I spent the weekend in New Hampshire visiting friends, I didn't get to see Hiroki Kuroda's incredibly dominant start on ESPN, as we didn't leave New England until a little before 8.

But we did get to listen to it, marking the first game I experienced completely on the radio in the 2013 season. And as we were regaled by the comedy stylings of Sterling 'n' Waldman, I started thinking about the various and sundry folks charged with providing vocal commentary before, during, and after Yankee games.

The good

The only thing that makes me happier than hearing that David Cone or Al Leiter is announcing a series on YES is the news that they're both on the crew together. I remember the first time I heard Leiter do analysis, he'd been hired by FOX to help cover the postseason while still a player, and all I could think was, "Please someone hire this guy after he's done playing." I was beyond pleased when he joined the YES crew after he retired in 2006, and he's remained there and with the MLB Network. His insights are always cogent and well thought out and cleverly explained. Where far too many ex-players indulge in nonsense clichés and idiotic platitudes badly disguised as analysis, Leiter actually, y'know, analyzes and stuff. He really takes the job seriously and gives the impression that he's really been thinking about what he says.

And as much fun as Leiter is, Cone is even more so, for two reasons. One, Cone is much livelier, just having a lot of fun babbling at his cohorts and the audience. And two, Cone has very publicly embraced sabermetrics and advanced analysis of baseball to a degree that many statheads have found heartening. (Though you can sometimes hear his boothmates rolling their eyes.)

Ken Singleton isn't perfect, but I really do enjoy listening to him. As catch phrases go, there are worse ones than "look out!" although I suspect that if you forced him to go an entire game without ever using the word "veteran," his head would explode. Also his resistance to Cone's rants on sabermetrics win the Joe Morgan Award For Not Paying Attention To Your Own Career—seriously, a) the guy played for Earl Weaver, and b) he was the type of player statheads drool over. Having said that, his casual, easygoing style makes for good listenin', and when he's on camera, he holds his microphone so gingerly I keep waiting (in vain) for him to drop it.

People will look at me crazy for including Michael Kay in this section, but I actually have come to appreciate him. When YES first started up, I thought he was an awful choice. Kay came up as a journalist (going back to his days in college, actually—he was the sports editor on the paper at Fordham University, the same publication for which I would serve as arts editor seven years later), and I always thought he was much better suited to his role as postgame interviewer/analyst on MSG than he ever was as a play-by-play guy. It didn't help that, prior to the move from MSG to YES, he was paired with John Sterling on the radio. And for a while, Kay was painful to listen to, but as time has passed he's gotten rid of some of the bad habits he's picked up from Sterling, and he's also taken advantage of his fine interview skills (which can also be seen on his fine show CenterStage) to ask leading questions of the former players who generally sit next to him.

Mention must also be made of Bob Lorenz and Jack Curry, who do an excellent job at the YES studio (and very occasionally filling in in the booth). Curry is a very good reporter, and he can be counted on to find some news to go with his examinations, and Lorenz keeps the pre- and post-game mills grinding smoothly. (I tend to think of him as who Karl Ravech wishes he was.)

The bad

I do not understand why Paul O'Neill still has a job on YES. He brings absolutely nothing to the table, and he brings out the absolute worst in Kay. He's barely engaged with the material, is far more interested in his adolescent banter with Kay than in the game he's being paid to call, and his insights—when he can be arsed to scrape them together—are ones that could just as easily be provided by a well-trained monkey. Last week, for reasons known only to the voices in their heads, the YES gang decided that they should get O'Neill on the phone, the ex-Yankee having just participated in a golf tournament and gotten a hole-in-one. We even got to see crummy cell phone video of this utterly pointless accomplishment. When I complained about this inanity on Twitter, this very site's Twitter feed said: "O'Neill is hilarious because he doesn't give a crap about anything." Except to me, that's a bug, not a feature.

Of course, O'Neill's incredibly uninteresting golf excursion did, at least, alleviate the boredom of listening to a broadcast where John Flaherty is the color commentator. Actually, that's the wrong adjective, as Flaherty's commentary has no color to it at all. He brings a catcher's insight into game mechanics, but when he gets away from the minutiae of pitch selection, he falls back on The Former Player's Cliché Handbook (c'mon, you know there has to be one), with the added bonus of an incredibly bland delivery.

I find Meredith Marakovits incredibly frustrating. When she first started, replacing the much more animated Kimberley Jones, I found her to be incredibly dull and lifeless. (I could never imagine anyone eating her pork chop on the air...) But then I started reading her Twitter feed (@M_Marakovits), which is actually very engaging. And then she occasionally showed up in the booth to banter with Kay and the others, and when she was just talking off the cuff she got about a billion times more engaging. She really needs to get away from the script more often and be herself, as the latter is a far more engaging television personality than the person she is on-book.

Like Kay, I thought that Suzyn Waldman was a reporter who was badly miscast in the role of announcer, but unlike Kay, she's done nothing in her years in the radio booth on WCBS to change my mind. And what really sucks is that she was an excellent reporter for WFAN, and she's just an awful color commentator. I will give her credit for working better with John Sterling than anyone else who's had the misfortune to sit next to him, but that's pretty much lipstick on a pig. And so many little things are frustrating, like Sunday night when she wondered how many pitches Hiroki Kuroda had thrown to that point. The Yankees were at bat, with Wei-Yin Chen pitching, so the scoreboard only showed Chen's pitch count. But I'm wondering, where's her production staff to feed her this info? Hell, why doesn't she just check her smartphone? This isn't the dark ages. (Then again, I spend most of the time listening to Waldman and Sterling thinking that they firmly believe that it's still 1987...)

The ugly

I always want to shove red-hot pokers in my ears whenever Nancy Newman comes on my TV screen, usually filling in for Lorenz when he's got a series off. Her love/hate relationship with the English language just makes me cringe. She and Steve Shearn were teamed up during Opening Week, and it was a rhapsody in clunkiness.

And then we have John Sterling. One hardly knows where to start. His inexplicable overemphasis of the definite article? (Most famously at the end of a win, but also in regular game-calling.) His home run calls that were rejected by Chris Berman as being too hokey? (It's so hard to pick a worst from among them—the options are many—but I'd have to give it to his call for Curtis Granderson because it involves him singing.) His increasing disconnect from the game he's supposed to be calling? (On WFAN, Boomer and Carton had a nice deconstruction of one of his particularly epic screwups from last season.) Or just the delight he takes in the sound of his own voice? Perhaps the quintessential Sterling moment was Sunday night. Each game starts with Waldman giving the starting lineups, and then when the first batter comes up, she says, "While [PLAYER] is stepping up to the plate, stepping up to the microphone is the voice of the Yankees, John Sterling." Except she had to delay that Sunday while waiting for ESPN's signal to start the game. When she finally did introduce Sterling, he didn't start with his usual, "Why thank you, Suzyn," but instead snidely asked if it was really okay to start now. You could hear the pout over the radio. Because, y'know, heaven forfend he have to stay quiet for an extra 45 seconds.

(By the way, if you're not following @FauxJSterling on Twitter, you really should.)

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