Yankees WFAN color commentator Suzyn Waldman makes the call to do some Q&A with Post columnist Steve Serby.
Q: Describe your announcing style.
A: Human. I try and tell fans something about a player that he or she can’t get from anybody else. I also try and do the “why” instead of just slider down and away and he swung over it. Why? What did he see? Or what is going on in their lives? I think the closer and closer we’ve gotten to just all Nintendo baseball, the humanity of sports and why we love it is going away. I want people to know about them as people.
Q: How would you explain the chemistry between you and John Sterling?
A: We’ve just known each other for a very long time. We have the same point of reference in a lot of things. I love unique people. John is an original. There’s no other like John Sterling.
Q: Describe his home run calls.
A: I love the home run calls, and people love the home run calls. He never tells me what he’s gonna do. So either if I laugh, evidently I like it (laugh), if I’m quiet evidently I think, “Well maybe that doesn’t work.” But when he first started — the “Bernie goes boom” and the “A-bomb for A-Rod” and “Robbie Cano, dontcha know” — his home run calls were so … organic. They just came out. He never stopped and thought about them.
Q: Which one would be your favorite?
A: I think “Bernie goes boom.”
Q: What do you hope your listeners and viewers say about Suzyn Waldman?
A: That I entertained them. And had knowledge. I would like people to think that I brought them closer to the teams that they love.
Q: What is a criticism that you think was most unfair?
A: All of it. … Because nobody ever criticized my work, ever. They just criticized me.
Q: What was the criticism there the day Roger Clemens came back and was in George Steinbrenner’s booth?
A: That I was unprofessional … people now want me to sign things with “Oh my goodness gracious, is that the most dramatic thing I’ve ever seen?” I’ll tell you what happened. I’ve known Clemens since the ’80s. Nobody told me that he was coming back. And John had gone to the bathroom. And it was the bottom of the seventh inning, in between, and the engineer said, “Go,” and all of a sudden, the Stadium started shaking, and people were screaming, and I had no idea whether the thing was coming down or what was going on, and I looked up on the board, and there was Clemens in Steinbrenner’s box, waving, and announcing he was coming back. People thought I should be fired for not being professional. … I was killed in two cities … made my mother cry in Boston. I mean, I was killed for that. And it had nothing to do with the game. And when the Red Sox came in like a week or two later, Curt Schilling, of all people, saw me in the clubhouse and said, “Suzyn, third base in five minutes.” And I went outside five minutes later, and there’s Schilling, and he said to me, “I’ve heard everything about what went on with you, and I’ve heard that announcement 100 times, and let me tell you something: You did nothing wrong, and don’t ever let people who don’t know and don’t care about you dictate how you feel about yourself.” When I sign autographs, or the cameos, if I make a message or something, “Would you say, ‘Oh my goodness gracious!?’ ”
Q: A George Steinbrenner anecdote?
A: When he hired Bucky Dent, one of the questions I asked him was: “George, can you tell me that Bucky is gonna be here for the rest of the year?” And he said something like: “What if he shoots me and I’m bleeding all over the parking lot … Should I keep him then?” … When I was brokering the thing between George and Yogi [Berra], and Yogi I never talked [in detail about what happened], George said, “Well what does he want me to do?” And I said, “He wants you to apologize.” And he said, “Apologize for what?” And I said, “I don’t know, George, you must know. Why would I know?” … I just miss this man every day.
Q: What happened after you did the WFAN show with them from the Yogi Berra Museum?
A: I called George back at the hotel and I said, “What did you think, George?” And he said, “Well it was a great night for the New York Yankees.” Then he paused, and this was so George. He said, “And it wasn’t too f—–g bad for you Waldman either, was it?”
Q: What would George be thinking about Suzyn Waldman being in the Radio Hall of Fame?
A: When I showed him pictures in the Women in Baseball Room in Cooperstown when it opened, he got really teary-eyed, and he said, “I’m really proud of you.” I hope it would be the same thing. I think he would be, ’cause he had a lot to do with this.
Q: Do you think he belongs in the Hall?
A: Absolutely. [Late White Sox minority owner and vice chairman] Eddie Einhorn came into the booth and they were playing the White Sox and Eddie had said right on the air, “Every owner in baseball should get down on their knees and thank George Steinbrenner for changing this game and making us all millionaires.”
Q: What is the happiest you ever saw George?
A: [In] 1996, I was standing next to George when Charlie Hayes caught the pop-up [for the last out to win the World Series over the Braves in Game 6].
Q: How would you explain his bond with Billy Martin?
A: George liked people around him that weren’t yes-men. George liked people whose minds he thought were as sharp as his. The same kind of win-at-all-costs mind, but in different personalities.
Q: How would you describe Billy?
A: Brilliant mind … would test you to see if you knew as much as he did. … When you’re an underdog, and people tell you, you can’t do something … He wasn’t Mickey Mantle. He made himself a great, great player, he really did. He was almost self-made, and I think George loved that kind of person.
Q: Describe Derek Jeter when he first came up.
A: I met Derek Jeter when he signed. And I remember doing an interview with him, and he was sitting in between his parents and he was 18. He was so extraordinarily composed and said everything right, and five minutes knowing the Jeters, I remember thinking that day, I swear to God, “If this kid can play, he’s gonna be special.”
Q: When did you get a sense that one day he would be or should be The Captain?
A: He was getting more and more Captain-like as the people that were there when he got there retired. It was George that thought the timing was right.
Q: When did you notice tension between Derek and Alex Rodriguez?
A: I’ve also known A-Rod since he was 18 when he was in Seattle. Sometimes people don’t have to be best friends. I didn’t even notice things really. They were just very different people when Alex got here, I guess. It didn’t happen on the field. My focus is on the field, I don’t care if they don’t go out to dinner together, what’s the difference?
Q: You liked Alex?
A: He tried so hard to fit in, and he tried so hard to be honest. Alex looks to please people. And so he’d say things that he thought you wanted to hear.
Q: Describe the bond between Derek and Joe Torre.
A: There was a respect there. … I never heard Derek, and I still haven’t, refer to him as Joe. I’d say father and son, but that’s too simple.
Q: Would Aaron Judge call Joe Torre Mr. Torre, too, if he had played for him?
A: Yes. … He is in the same mold to me as Derek, as [Don] Mattingly.
Q: Describe the 2000 Subway Series.
A: I just thought the city was electric, I love the repartee between Yankee fans and Met fans. … I just love the whole thing. As far as I’m concerned, this is where the universe is anyway, so who cares about anybody else?
Q: What were your emotions inside Fenway when Bucky Dent hit the famous three-run home run in 1978?
A: I’ve never heard a place get so silent in my entire life.
Q: Who were you rooting for that day?
A: It was ’78! I was a Bostonian (laugh).
Q: How would you sum up Yankees fans?
A: Red Sox fans with a different accent.
Q: What were your emotions when George fired Bucky in 1990, in Boston of all places?
A: I remember the headline in the Globe that day, ’cause I immediately thought of that ’cause I was in that park when that happened. Right across the top, there was a picture of Bucky and a picture of the Wall and it said: “The Wall Giveth and the Wall Taketh Away.”
Q: What was the ’89 World Series earthqu ake in San Francisco like?
A: Made my career. First time anybody took me seriously. … I stayed on the air, I reported it and I stayed there. I got up when the sun came up and I hitchhiked out to the Nimitz Freeway with my World Series pass ’cause they weren’t letting anybody in unless you had a media pass. And I did city-side stuff for days, and I was on the air all the time. And I won an international radio award for that. I think that was the first time that people thought that, “Well, maybe she’s just not some stupid girl.”
Q: The moment the earthquake began, how terrifying was it?
A: Very. I was in the upper deck in back of home plate. … The football press box actually was moving front to back, I thought it was gonna topple over. And you know what it is, and I just started describing. And I just kept going.
Q: How did that scare compare to your breast cancer scare?
A: Very different. ’Cause you’re not in control of cancer, but you can do things to control it. If you’re in an earthquake (laugh), it’s nothing you can control.
Q: How many games did you miss?
A: I didn’t miss a lot of games. I had my whole treatment centered around my going to spring training — I fired my first oncologist because, “Well sweetheart maybe one day you can go to lunch.” I said, “No, no, no, no, no, I’m going to spring training, so you better do something so I don’t die.” And I found an oncologist and she made my protocol to go with what I wanted to do, ’cause she believed that your life, and living your life, is a big part of cancer treatment. I was having chemo through that whole ’96 season. I missed the day I had chemo and the day after. I think I had four or five rounds, and they said you’re OK.
Q: You wore a wig all of ’96.
A: Bobby Murcer once said I never looked as good. He said he never knew. … When they won, it was like I won, too.
Q: What do you recall about the first death threat you received, in 1989?
A: I remember thinking: Why would someone actually want to kill me because I’m talking about the New York Yankees? The Stadium got letters, and the station got them, that was in Queens, so I had two precincts (chuckle) that were watching me ’cause [former Stadium operations director] Bill Squires set up a whole thing. I was terrified. I’m still scared. I still get a little nervous when I go through crowds ’cause I don’t know who’s in there. That doesn’t go away, by the way. I was never alone from the minute I hit the players’ parking lot to the minute I left. I never knew who was with me, but there was always someone that would be around. … John Stearns used to go out and start my car.
Q: What is the loudest you ever heard Yankee Stadium?
A: 1995. The first game of the wild card when they started introducing Buck [Showalter]. By the time they got to Mattingly, I thought the place was coming down.
Q: What was the most memorable flight home?
A: 1995, coming back from Seattle. The most devastatingly sad, awful plane ride I’ve ever had in my life — six hours after the loss to the Seattle Mariners, I’ll never forget one second of it. People crying in the back, Don Mattingly going around saying goodbye to everybody. Buck in the front knowing that his dream had died. … After ’97, that was another plane ride. Coming back from Cleveland, I didn’t see upset in that plane when they lost to Cleveland. I saw anger. And they came back in spring training, and you can feel it. … They were never gonna let that happen again.
Q: What is your best Mattingly memory?
A: My favorite Yankee of all time. One of the best people I’ve ever been around ever, in every way. You saw him with the back machine, that stretcher, to try and play. You saw him working all the time on his swing. I think also people loved Don Mattingly because he was like your brother, or your best friend. There was just something everyman about him. He was the kind of guy that you rooted for because you just felt that he worked so hard, and you could be like him. He was just one of us. When George was suspended, we were on the West Coast, and they were losing and it was awful, and somebody asked him something, and I wasn’t really paying attention, but out of his mouth came: “You can say anything you want about George Steinbrenner, but at least he cared.” … In those years it was really hard for me. I was always getting close to saying, “I can’t do this,” and he’d say something … “Good question, you asked so-and-so.” I believe he had no idea he was even doing it. I also was around when he told Bernie [Williams] that he belonged here.
Q: Describe when Pedro Martinez threw Don Zimmer to the ground.
A: I remember thinking, “Zim, why did you charge Pedro Martinez?” I was on television at that time, and I was yelling, “How can you do that to an old man?” But then when you see it again, it’s like Pedro had no idea who was charging at him. You know what I remember most about that, is Zimmer’s press conference where he apologized for doing that and was crying.
Q: Lou Piniella?
A: We’re in Detroit, ’88. Lou knew he was gonna get fired. He took all the writers and coaches, we meet at the London Chop House for martinis and Lou said to me, “All right, you’re a big wine person. I want a bottle of red and I want a bottle of white on the table at all times. George is paying for it, don’t go over $200 a bottle.” At the end of that night, there was a band there, and Lou gets up and he’s singing, “I did it my way.” And by the end of that night, I’m on the table singing with the band “New York, New York.”
Q: What is the essence of Buck Showalter as a manager?
A: He’s a different generation of Billy in the way he thinks outside the box. He sees little details. There is nothing that Buck Showalter is not prepared for. Buck was an eye-in-the-sky, and he’d sit in the press box, and I’d sit next to him, and it was an education. We’re in the old Comiskey Park, and Buck says to me: “See those pinwheels out there? See the red one? I think there’s a camera in there.” I called him when the new park was open, and I said, “Buck, they took the pinwheels with them.” He said, “Yup, I told you.” He would see things that other people don’t see. … Michael Kay and I were at the winter meetings talking with Billy Martin … it was a few months before he died. Billy had a plan, that Bucky would probably be fired on the West Coast trip, and Billy would take over and he was gonna make Buck Showalter his third base coach, the way Sam Mele had made him his third base coach when he was in Minnesota, and that was gonna be his present to the New York Yankees was Buck Showalter.
Q: Joe Girardi?
A: When he was the catcher, Joe Girardi was your go-to guy to ask questions about the game. Joe Girardi is as good a human being as I’ve ever met. To me, the MVP of the ’96 team was Joe Girardi, the way he handled that pitching staff.
Q: Aaron Boone?
A: When he’d come into the booth, when he was talking to me, he intrinsically knew me, he intrinsically knew the difference between me and John. The conversations were different. And you’d see that on his broadcasts. He was always a little bit outside the box, very analytical but human. The combination is rare.
Q: So you didn’t think hiring him as Yankees manager was a gamble?
A: Of course I did. He’d never done it before. But, you know, I’d never done it before either. I always think everybody can do everything until they’re proven that they can’t.
Q: Mariano Rivera?
A: In ’95, after that loss to Seattle, the buses were on the other side of the center field fence in the Kingdome, and he was just staring out at the field and I walked up in back of him and he said, “This hurts so badly, I never want to feel this ever again.” And I said, “I know. Let’s go home.” He’s as special a human being as there is.
Q: Favorite interview?
A: David Cone. He would let you walk out to the mound with him if you would.
Q: Phil Rizzuto?
A: My first game in the [television] booth was with Phil Rizzuto, and we were in Fenway Park … about the fifth inning, Phil gets up, and he says, “I’ll be right back, you’ll be fine.” And leaves me in the booth. By myself. And he comes back an inning-and-a-half later with sandwiches, cannolis: “You did great.” And he sat down. Loved him. And by the way, he was a really good broadcaster.
Q: Do you resent the writers for the way they treated you way back when?
A: Some. … Why would you do that to a human being? I wasn’t bothering anybody.
Q: What exactly did they do?
A: I sat in that press box for a solid year , nobody talked to me.
Q: Who are announcers and broadcasters you admired?
A: Growing up it was Johnny Most. When I was a little girl I heard Curt Gowdy and Bob Murphy — I knew whether the Red Sox were winning and losing before they ever told me the score. That’s what I heard growing up, so that’s probably what I’m like.
Q: Describe your WFAN interactions with Mike and the Mad Dog.
A: I miss those days. ’Cause I love to argue, too. And I don’t like to be told that I’m wrong. What do you mean I’m wrong? No, I loved that. It was very challenging — also very entertaining because my Yankee spot on “Mike and the Mad Dog” sold for a lot of money. [Mike] Francesa was amazing to me when I got sick. He’s family to me.
Q: Michael Kay?
A: One of the great reporters of all time. Michael Kay actually paved the way for me to get this job, because when he was on with John Sterling, it was because he was a reporter, and he brought the same things that I bring to the table. It was analysis because he was in the clubhouse.
Q: Meredith Marakovits?
A: Great at what she does. I feel a sense of pride when I watch her and hear her questions and sees what she goes through. I’m lucky to be her friend.
Q: Three dinner guests?
A: Jackie Robinson, Ted Williams, John Kennedy.
Q: You had dinner with Ted Williams?
A: He’s like John Wayne … larger than life, very loud, great opinions. He was just charming.
Q: Why do you still carry a photo of Ted Williams in your wallet?
A: Because when things go wrong, I look at it and always have because he went through a lot in Boston, and he only just got better, and he never let anything deter him. … Since I was a little girl, I always thought about that. … There’s just something about keep going.
Q: Your dream was theater and you performed on Broadway.
A: I left theater because I was getting old, the music was changing, and I did not get where I wanted to be. I was gonna sing. I knew from the time I was 2, I was going to New York as soon as I graduated college. The next day I was going on the bus.
Q: Favorite movie?
A: “All About Eve.”
Q: Favorite actor?
A: Cary Grant.
Q: Favorite actress?
A: Bette Davis.
Q: Favorite meal?
A: Salmon and salad.
Q: “That’s baseball, Suzyn.”
A: It means that you’ve left a mark in somebody’s mind and heart, ’cause they’re quoting you. Actually they’re quoting John (laugh).
Q: Describe the evolution of women in the locker room.
A: Women in the locker room now … first of all, it’s the law. It’s equal access no matter what you do, I’m sorry, you have to do it. The problem with women in sports is your colleagues, the people that are hiring and what people expect of you. You look at women now, and the people that are doing the hiring are still male. So they are deciding what is palatable to what they think is just a male audience. The women in the locker room is very public, and I know that we had a lot of trouble, and I had a lot of trouble with it. But you find really wonderful people like a Jesse Barfield, like a Dave Winfield that protect you and say, “No, this is ridiculous, stop it, grow up.” I think the expectation is different.
Q: How do you like being called a trailblazer and a pioneer?
A: I guess I like it (laugh). It means that obviously that you’re on the other side of the bell curve ’cause it’s a pioneer. … What is that the Wild West? Maybe it is. I think it’s good. I mean, you’re supposed to leave a mark on this world. And if that’s it, that’s a pretty good one.
Q: Is that what you’re most proud of professionally?
A: I just wanted to make a mark for me when I started this ’cause I thought this would be fun. I knew sports, I knew it as well as anybody, and I didn’t understand why people thought I was a moron, or a horrible person ’cause I was female and walked in a locker room or walked in a clubhouse. I was middle-aged when I found out that people didn’t want women around, I didn’t know. I just wanted to talk about sports.
Q: What drives you now?
A: I am a really driven person, I am the same as I was when I was 20, I really am. My grandfather who told me I was a princess and there was nothing I couldn’t do, and my mother who said, “That’s wonderful. You can do that better.” That’s who I am.
Q: Do you think, or hope, that you’re an inspiration?
A: I don’t quite believe it ’cause I’m just doing what I’m doing, but I know I am because I meet young women all the time that tell me I am. When I hear people like reporters, columnists for The Washington Post or somebody that is now out there doing minor league play-by-play for a team say that, “I was a little girl and I was sitting in my car with my parents, and there you were, and I knew I could do this.” It’s hard for me to accept compliments, I’m embarrassed.
Q: What do you hope your legacy is, or will be?
A: I used to kid people that I’m gonna have on my tombstone, if they still have tombstones then: “She succeeded when she shouldn’t have.”
Q: What do you mean by that?
A: Well, if you look at it, I was not prepared for this. I wasn’t a broadcaster. I wasn’t a journalist. I learned on the way. That I do know, I overcame a lot. Whoever that was on Philadelphia radio when I did my first national game in 1994, it was an ex-Eagle. I was the first woman to do a national television game. Afterwards he said to me, “I’ve listened to you before, I really don’t like you, and I don’t like women doing this, but I watched the game with my 8-year-old daughter, and I realized this is something she’s never gonna know that she can’t do ’cause there you were.” And it has stayed with me since 1994.
Q: How much longer do you want to do this?
A: Until I don’t want to do it anymore.
Q: What’s it like today being Suzyn Waldman?
A: Well, then I’d have to tell people what I’m really like because nobody knows who that is.
Q: Why does nobody know who that is?
A: Do you know who Derek Jeter is?
Q: No, but you’re a lot less guarded than he ever was.
A: How do you know that?
Q: I feel like everybody knows you.
A: Then I’ve done my job, haven’t I?