Suzyn Waldman Invades the Male Holy of Holies

Article excerpt

S-U-Z-Y-N Waldman changed the spelling of her given name 10 years ago when she quit the musical theater to make a name for herself in a new field.

Now, no matter what letters of the alphabet she's chosen, the reporter on WFAN sports radio in New York City has succeeded in getting her name up in lights. Waldman has gained entrance to one of the last holy of holies of male culture: the broadcast booth of professional sports.

She is making her debut in the sporting world's equivalent of Broadway, the first woman announcing for the New York Yankees, one of the most fabled franchises in sports, in the world's biggest media market.

Waldman is calling balls and strikes for 13 games on TV, filling in for the legendary Phil Rizzuto on long team trips. And Waldman is already being cast full time for a starring role.

It's a strange plot turn for a born Red Sox fan with a Boston-accented voice, whose career was modeled more on that of Mary Martin than Mel Allen.

Yankees owner George Steinbrenner said he was so impressed with her performance behind the mike that she is his candidate for a permanent slot in the booth next season. In Yankees baseball-as-theater, that's tantamount to getting the part.

"She has proven to everyone that she is very capable and very smart," said Steinbrenner, in his first public comments about the future lineup in the booth - surprising both Waldman and broadcast executives. "It's time."

While the Madison Square Garden cable network holds the Yankees broadcasting rights, Steinbrenner has veto power on the choice of announcers. "We can just say no, no, no until they understand," said The Boss, proving the aptness of his tabloid monicker.

But Waldman, who spent much of her theatrical career playing the wench Aldonza in "Man of La Mancha" on Broadway and on the road, has reasons not to believe Don Quixote's dream of Dulcinea. In February, she underwent surgery for breast cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy.

"It's bizarre. You think you are going to have it so good and then, just in case you think you are getting too hot, someone says `handle this' at the same time."

Sitting in the first row of the broadcast booth at Yankee Stadium during a recent homestand, Waldman, who turns 50 in September, won't talk about what might be.

Not when she is wearing a wig because her hair has fallen out. Not when she has bouts of nausea and her hands tremble. Not when she has to give herself injections every day to maintain her white blood cell count. Not when she has to keep up with the grueling travel schedule of a 162-game season, which exhausts even the young and healthy.

"I have a job and I love it," she says. "It's hard to think about next year with so much going on in my life. I have to feel better first." She has two more chemotherapy treatments, to be followed by radiation after the season.

Now in her ninth season covering the team for WFAN, she is the veteran reporter on the Yankees beat, widely respected for the depth of her knowledge about the players and the game. Waldman has outlasted seven Yankees managerial changes, from Billy Martin to Buck Showalter.

"At first I wasn't sure what to make of her, but after a while I realized that she's just one of the guys," said Joe Torre, in his first season as Yankees manager.

Initially, she was treated as an outcast - for being a woman, a radio reporter in a game where print reporters dominate - and simply a newcomer.

"I traveled with the team for a solid year in 1988 and no one talked to me," Waldman said. …

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