A Voice For The Ages
In the ultimate man's world, history-making Yankees announcer Suzyn Waldman is a modern-day Yentl.
Special to the Jewish News
he is surrounded by the ghosts of
heroes: Ruth, Gehrig, Joltin Joe
and The Mick. But in seeking a
parallel for her history-making and
insult-enduring journey into the press
box at Yankee Stadium, Suzyn Waldman
looks beyond the hallowed ground of
Monument Park in center field.
For the simple fate of being a woman
in the ultimate man's world — a Major
League Baseball locker room —
Waldman has been screamed at, in
Spanish and English, by slugger George
Bell; spat at by a fiery Mets infielder;
cursed at by a sullen first baseman (she
asks that their names not be men-
tioned). And that's only the stuff that
can be printed in a family newspaper.
All of it brought to mind a hero of a
different sort, or should we say heroine?
For Waldman, the title character in Isaac
Bashevis Singer's classic tale "Yend, the
Yeshiva Boy" — about a woman in
another kind of man's world, the world
of Torah study — offers a literary, and
real-life, role model.
"I read that when I was a kid,"
Waldman says in a recent interview. "I
didn't understand why, when she had
something to contribute, she couldn't
because she was a woman. I think even
now I walk into a room full of people
and I'm tolerated, but I'm not really
"It is very similar to being Jewish," she
continues. "There can't be any outward
signs of prejudice against women; it's
against the law. Is that similar to anti-
She didn't have to dress like a yeshiva
bocher but like Yend, Waldman, 58, has
blazed a trail for nearly two decades,
breaking through one sexist barrier after
another that kept women from covering
men's sports. She was the first woman
reporter on WFAN, the all-sports talk
radio network based in New York, and
the first woman to do play-by-play on a
Yankees television broadcast when she
called games for WPIX and the MSG
network in the mid-1990s.
Another first took place last month
when Waldman joined the team that
broadcast the Yankees home opener
against the archrival Boston Red Sox on
WCBS radio. She is the first woman to
become a full-time color commentator
in Major League Baseball history.
It hasn't been easy.
"When you're a woman in this busi-
ness, you're not wanted," says Waldman,
a longtime resident of northern
Westchester County. "I've known that
since I first started this job."
For example in 1987, Bell wasn't talk-
ing to the New York media, thinking
they had cost him the Most Valuable
Player award the year earlier. When
Waldman, new on the beat, approached
the slugging Toronto Blue Jays outfielder
in the locker room, Bell started scream-
ing at her in Spanish and English.
"At the time I was a little less tough
than I am now," she recalls. "Tears
welled up in my eyes, and I said I better
get out of there."
But as she left, one of Bell's team-
mates, Jesse Barfield, called out to her:
"Suzyn, I went three for four today.
Don't you want to ask me any ques-
Waldman's tougher now, simply by
nature of the fact that she's a native of
Newton, Mass., a suburb of Boston,
working for the Red Sox's nemesis —
with a pretty thick Boston accent, to
Her grandfather had season tickets to
the Red Sox. Every Saturday he would
take her to Harvard football games.
She'd see the Celtics play, and it never
occurred to her that being a sports fan
was improper or unladylike.
"I always saw women at the park,"
Waldman says. "My mother was a fan,
my aunts, the nuns that Cardinal
Cushing used to bring to the ballpark. I
didn't know that I wasn't supposed to
know anything about sports. I had no
idea that I wasn't supposed to belong."
Waldman was a raised in a Reform
Jewish environment. She attended
Sunday school and was confirmed. She
went to temple and is quick to point out
that her brother, an attorney, is a vice
principal of a Solomon Schechter school
She has no memory of Sandy Koufax's
decision in 1965 not to play in the first
game of the World Series because it fell
on Yom Kippur.
"There was no National League team
in Boston, so as far as I was concerned,
it didn't exist," Waldman says.
"Interestingly, I have it in my contract
Boston Celtics, moved into
that I don't broadcast on
sports broadcasting. Taking
Rosh HaShanah and
the job as beat reporter for
WFAN, "I had no idea
"I have these discus-
what I was in for," she says.
sions all the time. Alex
"There was a cabal of
Rodriguez just asked
people who felt women
about playing or not
belonged everywhere but
playing on the holidays.
doing sports. They tried to
I told him the scriptures
get me to quit. They tried
don't say do not play on
to fire me. Producers
Yom Kippur unless the
would doctor my tapes and
Yankees are still playing."
put strange things on the
Despite her intense
Suzyn Waldman: Major
air to try to make me look
interest in sports,
League baseball's firstfill-
foolish," she says.
though, when it came to
time female color commen-
But Waldman refused to
a career it played second
fiddle to show business.
"I don't like being told
no," she says. "I don't like being hated
Simmons College and majored in eco-
because I'm a female."
nomics, only because her mother and
Waldman, who is single, says she has
father told her to, and that was still a
her dream job. She prefers radio to tele-
time when people listened to their par-
ents. But at the same time, she took
"On television," she contends, "you're
courses in singing and dancing at the
just providing captions for pictures peo-
New England Conservatory of Music.
ple can see."
The day she graduated from college
She also prefers color commentary to
— "maybe it was the day after,"
play-by-play and says her partner, John
Waldman concedes — she left for New
Sterling, "is the best there is."
York. She landed several roles, both on
Still, after all this time, Waldman isn't
and Off Broadway, and perhaps became
sure if she's accepted or tolerated.
best known for her role as Dulcinea in
"I do have friends in the [Yankee]
Man of La Mancha, which she toured in
for two years opposite Howard Keel and organization," she says. "I'm also older. I
have a life. This is not who I am."
That came home to her in 1996 when
"That's how I bought my house," she
she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
says. "The role became my bread and
"I wasn't going to take the season off. I
But either show business or her enthu- didn't miss any days, except when I was
having chemo," she says.
siasm for it changed.
The Yankees went out of their way to
"The Broadway I came to New York
for is gone," Waldman laments. "And it's be helpful, assuring she had a refrigera-
tor in her room on road trips so
not coming back. It was time to find
Waldman could store her medication.
something else to do with my life."
The Yankees won the World Series
When Waldman was touring with
that year, and there was a big parade
Man of La Mancha in Major League
down the Canyon of Heroes. Waldman
cities, she'd call the ballpark and say,
rode in one of the cars, ticker tape flying
"This is Dulcinea from the production
of Man of La Mancha. Do you need
someone to sing the national anthem?"
That's how she got to sing "The Star
Spangled Banner" at the 1979 World
Suzyn Waldman can be heard
"Joe Garagiola was there, and he
doing color commentary for the
watched me talking to the ballplayers
New York Yankees on WCBS 880,
and he said, 'You ought to think about
the radio flagship of the New York
[broadcasting as a career],"' she recalls.
Yankees. The Detroit Tigers play
When things started to change on
the Yankees in Detroit May 24-26
Broadway, Waldman, inspired by her
for a three-game series.
love of the Red Sox and the NBA