Already with his dream job, Brendan Burke fulfilled another childhood fantasy when the TV play-by-play voice of the New York Islanders served as the radio play-by-play voice of the New York Yankees, Burke was behind the mic for the Yankees’ weekend series in Cleveland and on Wednesday wrapped up a two-game set in Pittsburgh, working with Suzyn Waldman. He is one of a handful of announcers filling in for John Sterling after the 84-year-old decided to significantly cut back his road schedule this season.
Burke isn’t the first Yankees-Islanders play-by-play connection. The man he filled in for was the radio voice of the Islanders on WMCA from 1975-1978. Long before “It is high, it is far, it is gone” became a household catchphrase during the late 1990s, Sterling’s “Goal. Islander goal! ISLANDER GOAL!” was proclaimed with the same theatrics and excitement as a Bronx Bomber home run.
It was sitting beside Sterling, where the broadcasting dream was first conceived. “This is my great white buffalo,” Burke told Evan Roberts and Craig Carton after it was announced he would be calling Yankees games on WFAN. “This is where I got the spark for being a broadcaster. When I was a kid, my dad (Don Burke) was the Yankee beat writer. So I used to sit between Sterling and (Michael) Kay when they were together when I was a 9-year-old and that’s where I got the spark to be a broadcaster.”
Burke is active (and quite witty) on social media, often bringing you inside the daily routine of a broadcaster. For the Yankees broadcasts, it was clear the experience made him sentimental, harking back to sitting in the stands with an audio recorder and riding minor league buses with the Batavia Muckdogs and Lakewood Blueclaws.
As fun as it’s been listening to Burke paint the word picture for Yankees games, some fans have wondered what would happen if the most prestigious team in professional sports asked their guy to take on a more permanent role at some point. Perhaps the rain out and rain delay he experienced during his five-game stint would dissuade Burke from calling baseball regularly, but if that happened, despite scheduling conflicts, it wouldn’t be impossible to pull off, and it wouldn’t be a first for an Islanders announcer.
Howie Rose has been a play-by-play presence on Mets telecasts and radio broadcasts since 1996 and started broadcasting Islanders games during 1995-96. His last call came in 2016 when John Tavares’ 2OT game-winning goal against the Florida Panthers advanced the team into the next round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in 23 years.
The annual workload was intense, with very little time off in-between seasons. What was convenient for Rose was that the Islanders’ season often ended in early April without playoffs and the Mets season rarely saw October, making scheduling conflicts a rarity. In 2013, when the NHL lockout pushed back the season, it was the first Rose found himself missing one team’s games for another, and sometimes, with travel cutting it close to make games on time.
“It’s the kind of inner-turbulence you deal with in situations like this, Rose told Justin Terranova in a 2013 New York Post story. “The peripheral stuff like that isn’t enjoyable. Once I am in the booth and the game is about to begin that’s when I am in my element. That’s when I am having a ball and it’s as much fun as it’s ever been. All the other stuff complicates the situation.”
Hall of Famer Jiggs McDonaldthe voice of the Islanders dynasty, called Mets games for SportsChannel in 1982, his only season of Major League Baseball. Having worked for the Los Angeles Kings, Jiggs understandably and admittedly emulated his broadcast from Vin Scully, “It was different, it was enjoyable, a great experience, McDonald told the IslesBlog Podcast in 2015. “Lorne Brown, Ralph Kiner, and myself were the trio in the SportsChannel booth. I treasure those moments.”
Part of the Islanders broadcast since 2016, the Ithaca College alum is as good as it gets a hockey play-by-play announcer. That’s not Islanders’ fan speak, that’s just fact. He doesn’t depend on schtick or slogans. He calls the game straight, maintaining a perfect pitch while keeping pace with the game. Working alongside Butch Goringhe brings levity to the broadcast while being able to frame and capture the big moments.
Most importantly, he connected with the fanbase, immersing himself not only in the team’s history but also taking the time to understand the Islander fan. He gets them, he knows what they’ve been through and what this franchise means to them. Such insight has allowed him to find the right words when the team returns to the Nassau Coliseum in 2018 and opened UBS Arena at Belmont Park in 2021.
“This is a dream job for me and the only place I want to be and the only place I want to be in the future, Burke told Cory Wright of NewYorkIslanders.com in 2016. “Hopefully this is just the beginning of a very long and great relationship between myself and Islanders fans.”
From his first season on MSG, it was clear he was a talent deserving of national broadcasts. That happened when Burke started calling NHL games for NBC Sports and has continued with the league’s move to TNT where Burke called national games during the season and two rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
At just 37, it would come as no surprise if Burke’s trajectory one day led him to call the Stanley Cup Final. But perhaps, just maybe, a World Series is in his future too.