Mike DiMauro: We'll miss John Sterling, don'cha know

Apr. 16—It's still my favorite voicemail of all time. The voice was unmistakable.

"Mike," the voice said. "This is John Sterling. A friend of mine sent me your column. I want you to know that's the nicest thing anybody ever wrote about me. Please give me a call."

This was in Oct. 2011. And since, I've been able to call the baritone bard of the Bronx Bombers my friend.

Ah, Monday was surely bittersweet. John Sterling gets to go out on his terms and enjoy the rest of his life. But we will spend the rest of ours missing the entertainment.

The Yanks had just been eliminated from the playoffs in 2011. I wrote a piece about how losing a series was a lot more palatable than losing Sterling and Suzyn Waldman, whose contracts hadn't yet been renewed for the following year.

I returned John's call, later setting up a dinner date with John and the "Pinstripe Brethren," a dozen of us on a text/email chain originally authored by forever UConn play by play voice Joe D'Ambrosio. We watch, listen (and ultimately manage) all 162 games. Now it's become tradition: Every year in December or January, the Brethren meet at the Capital Grille in Stamford — the halfway point — for steaks, stories and Scotches with our patron saint.

John Sterling is as affable and engaging a human being as has ever walked the mortal soil. Heck, I even brought my mother to a few of the dinners. She made him Christmas cookies. (It became a thing.)

Was he a storyteller? FAB-ulous, as he'd say. But a better listener. Eventually, we'd get him to talk about how much he hates the raucous sound effects in Tampa, loud public address announcer in Oakland (often interrupting him in mid-sentence) and other classics that come from calling nearly 6,000 Yankee games.

I happened to be in Tampa on a UConn trip one year while the Yanks were at spring training. We met for dinner. He arranged to have a few of the players come over to meet me. It was clear they held him in the highest esteem.

John Sterling is like your favorite movie. You know the lines are coming. You know the inflection. But you just can't wait to hear them again. It's not just "Robbie Cano, don'cha know." It's not just "you can't predict baseball." It's theater. Like the way he would introduce the now late engineer for the radio broadcasts: Carlos Silva. Sterling would always say "Carlos," pause and then hammer home "SEAL-vah." And I'd laugh every time.

"He's the most unique human being I ever met in my life," Waldman said Monday night on YES. "The biggest compliment I can give anybody is that he's an original. There will never be another John Sterling. There just can't be."

I'd pop up to the booth on occasion before a game as John and Suzyn prepared. A happy, welcoming place. Turns out one of the assistants in the booth is UConn grad and Southbury native Rick Rausch or "The Rick Rausch Corporation," as Sterling likes to say. All truly good people.

You've probably heard along the way that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Has anyone else in the history of the world been flattered more than John Sterling? We all have a favorite call, a moment, a thing. Even Aaron Judge said before Monday's game that the players would sit on the bus and wonder about John's home run calls for the new guys.

I amuse myself, even, with how much of John I carry with me. I now pronounce "Detroit" as "De-TWAH." I'll be watching some high school or college game and randomly go, "THEEE pitch," just before the pitch. I'll punctuate the quirky happenings of everyday life with a "that's baseball, Suzyn," or "well, that's showbiz." My friend Jason Southard begins many conversations with me using "you know, Michael," as Sterling did regularly with Michael Kay.

Most Yankee fans know Sterling through "Bern Baby Bern," "The Grandy Man Can," and the other home run calls. But among my greatest blessings is getting to know the soundtrack of my early adulthood. And discovering he was every bit the guy I wanted him to be.

We're going to miss him. But I hope one day I'm in the stands when he gets his rightful place in Monument Park. To me, there are four voices who speak now and forever about the New York Yankees: Mel Allen, Phil Rizzuto, Bob Sheppard and John Sterling.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro