Once the final out is made and the cheering stops at Yankee Stadium, Suzyn Waldman drives to Northern Westchester, to be greeted by doting German shepherds Gatsby and Margo, and join them on a porch overlooking a welcoming lake that adorns her spacious backyard.
Perhaps only then, as she takes in the stars and relishes the sound of silence, can the native of Newton, MA, truly appreciate the improbable path she blazed as she begins her 33rd season of Yankees coverage, including the last 15 beside radio play-by-play man John Sterling.
“Westchester to me is peace,” Waldman says. “It’s 45 minutes from the city, and I might as well be in another world.”
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The world she leaves behind, if only for a few hours, until the next home game or road trip, is fraught with challenges. After breaking into radio following a successful career in musical theater, she encountered horrific resistance while proving that a woman could hold a position previously reserved for men.
She’s received used condoms and bags of feces in the mail. Death threats left her fiercely protective of her privacy. Although she survived breast cancer in 1996, she lives with fear of a recurrence.
Her life has not been easy. Making history never is.
Joel Hollander was general manager at WFAN when Waldman delivered an update as the first voice heard on that all-sports station on July 1, 1987. As chief executive officer at CBS when she was hired to work beside Sterling in 2005, he takes pride in her accomplishments and the role he played.
“Suzyn was one of the few who broke the barrier, and she crashed it down,” he says. “She didn’t have an easy time at first, but she has endured all these years and done a wonderful job.”
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Few non-athletes occupy a position in Yankees annals. Waldman does. The storied franchise honored her three years ago with a plaque that reads: “Presented to Suzyn Waldman, the first woman to hold a full-time position as Major League broadcaster. In recognition of your 30th season covering the New York Yankees.”
Her passion for the national pastime can be traced to Fenway Park’s front row. Herman Dine, her grandfather, had season tickets to the Boston Red Sox; they enjoyed games together from a grand vantage point from the time she was a child. Her mother, Jeanne, provided another major influence as she developed an undeniable will to succeed.
“My grandfather told me I was a princess. There was nothing I couldn’t do,” Waldman says. “My mother always thought there was more I could do. I could be better.”
Major roles in musicals are hard to land, yet Waldman starred as Aldonza opposite Richard Kiley in the 1979 revival of Man of La Mancha. After she moved into radio and Yankees owner George Steinbrenner denied her access to him, she wrote a letter in which she demanded an interview before flying to his hometown of Tampa.
When Steinbrenner finally agreed to meet with her, Waldman said he told her, “I don’t like women cops; I don’t like women firemen; I don’t like women in the military; and I don’t like women in sports.”
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Waldman shrugged that off and pressed on. Steinbrenner laughed and began to answer her questions.
“That is the relationship we had forever,” Waldman says. “He would say, ‘No,’ and I would say, ‘This is what we are going to do.’” Her actions kept to a motto displayed in her memorabilia room: “Well-Behaved Women Rarely Make History.”
Steinbrenner’s penchant for firing employees underscores how difficult it was to satisfy The Boss, who passed away in 2010. But Waldman found a way.
“I think they had a very strong relationship. I think he had a lot of respect for her,” says Yankees general manager Brian Cashman. “That doesn’t mean he didn’t sword-fight with her and that she wasn’t in his crosshairs like anybody would be at times because of the personality he was. But I also know he was extremely proud of the person she was and the career she was creating.”
Steinbrenner provided Waldman with a major opportunity when she became part of the broadcast team for local telecasts on WPIX in the mid-’90s. Cashman said of that hiring, “George Steinbrenner invested in someone he felt would be the most qualified candidate and invested in a person who had the most content to bring to the table. And it didn’t matter that it was a she.”
Following her cancer diagnosis, Waldman’s first call after her mother, was to Steinbrenner. She wanted to assure him that she could meet her commitments despite the rigors of chemotherapy and other treatment.
Waldman with Gatsby and Margo on her deck. Photo by Stefan Radtke
She was as defiant in confronting cancer as she was in opposing those who thought there was no place for a woman in male-dominated sports broadcasting. She recalled seeing literature in the doctor’s office for newly diagnosed patients that was titled “Why me?”
“I remember looking down and saying, ‘Why the f–k not me?’” she says. “And then you just deal with it.”
Her healthy lifestyle now includes protein shakes every morning, demanding regular workouts with a personal trainer and outings with Gatsby 11, and Margo, 6, the seventh generation of German shepherds she has owned.
Although critics remain, signs of change that she spurred abound.
“Her abilities have opened the door for other females who maybe hadn’t gotten the opportunity,” says Mark Chernoff, WFAN’s senior vice president of programming.
Her association with Sterling could not be more comfortable. “She wants every broadcast to be great. She wants to know everything,” Sterling says. “I never think about having a woman on the air. It’s Suzyn, and she’s my partner.”
The contracts of the aging announcers are now renewed annually. The grind of the 162-game schedule is relentless.
“I’ve had two acts,” Waldman says. “There’s probably a third one in there, too.”
Freelance writer Tom Pedulla traveled the country with Suzyn Waldman when he covered the New York Yankees as a beat writer for Gannett Newspapers from 1985-1995 prior to being hired by USA Today.