Monday, July 12, 2010

Bob Sheppard, 1910-2010


Your attention please... ladies and gentlemen...

Will you please rise?... Let us observe a moment... of silent prayer... in memory... of Mr. Bob Sheppard... the Voice... of Yankee Stadium... for fifty-seven years... as well as... the public-address announcer... for the New York... football Giants... for fifty years... and one of the great gentlemen... of the world of sports... who passed away yesterday... at his home in Long Island, New York... at the age of ninety-nine.

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Thank you.

Robert Leo Sheppard tried to keep his age a secret, like pitchers ranging from Satchel Paige to Luis Tiant to Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez. Records show that he was born on October 20, 1910, in the Richmond Hill section of Queens. He played 1st base and quarterback (lefthanded) at St. John's University, graduating in 1933, and taught speech there, and served as a Navy gunner in World War II.

After The War, became the public-address announcer for the football version of the Brooklyn Dodgers, who were owned by Dan Topping. Topping was also, with Del Webb, the owner of the Yankees, and he hired Sheppard to do the honors for the Yankees, starting in 1951.
Screen capture from ESPN's broadcast of the last game
at the old Yankee Stadium, September 21, 2008

When the football Giants moved to Yankee Stadium, he announced their games as well, remaining through the 2005 season. He remained the Yankee PA announcer until 2007, when his health began to give out. A special hookup was done to his Long Island home, so he could announce the starting lineup for the last game at the old Yankee Stadium.

He observed his teams winning 16 World Championships -- 13 by the Yankees (1951, '52, '53, '56, '58, '61, '62, '77, '78, '96, '98, '99 and 2000) and 3 by the Giants (1956, '86 and '90). And he lived long enough to see the Giants win again in the 2007-08 season and the Yankees in 2009.

As a result, he is 1 of only 2 men to have both a World Series ring and a Super Bowl ring. The other is Bill King, the late broadcaster for the Oakland Athletics and Raiders and the Golden State Warriors -- who was also secretive about his age, and who topped him with also an NBA Championship ring.

Bob Sheppard believed in being what he called "the three C's": Clear, concise, correct. He didn't like the announcements of Minnesota Twins announcer Bob Casey, who took 15 seconds to introduce Kirby Puckett; or Chicago Bulls announcer Ray Clay, who gave Michael Jordan and company the hype they deserved and then some.

Sheppard said his favorite type of names to announce were the Hispanic names, such as Alvaro Espinoza, and the Asian ones, such as Shigetoshi Haseagawa. He liked that they were dominated by vowels, not by hard consonants. "They are very euphonious," he would say. "Anglo-Saxon names are not. What am I going to do with Mickey Klutts?" And yet, his favorite name of all time was also a Mickey.

For the 1st at-bat of a game, it was always the number, the name, the position, and the number again: "Number 7... Mickey Mantle... center field... Number 7."

For each subsequent at-bat, it was the position, then the name: "The shortstop, Derek Jeter."

Mantle, who was also born on an October 20, 21 years later, told Sheppard, "I got goose bumps every time you announced my name." Sheppard told Mantle, "So did I."

Reggie Jackson called Sheppard "The Voice of God," a name also given to legendary NFL Films announcer, and former Philadelphia news anchor, John Facenda.

When Sheppard's 50th season as the Yankee PA voice was underway, on May 7, 2000, the Yankees honored him with a Plaque in Monument Park. Since he couldn't do the announcing for his own ceremony -- except in his acceptance speech -- the Yankees asked one of the most familiar and trusted voices in America, longtime CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite, to do the honors.
Bob and his wife Mary with his Plaque

"Good afternoon... " (Or "Good evening... ") "... ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to Yankee Stadium." For so long, for so many, those words meant the start of a day of baseball.

One thing I found odd was that he wasn't big on nicknames. Jim Hunter was always introduced as "Jim," never "Catfish." Rich Gossage was always "Rich," never "Goose." (Goose loves his nickname, but Catfish always preferred "Jim.") When the Red Sox came in with their colorful pitcher Oil Can Boyd -- he said that in Meridian, Mississippi, where he was from, a beer can was called an "oil can" -- Sheppard would introduce him as, "And pitching... Number 23... Dennis Boyd... Number 23."

And yet, he never called Reggie Jackson "Reginald," Sparky Lyle "Albert," or Bernie Williams "Bernabe." He never called Bo Jackson "Vincent." I don't go back to the Casey Stengel years, but I doubt he called him "Charles Stengel."
Drawing by New York Daily News cartoonist Bill Gallo,
after asking Sheppard to name his 5 favorite moments that he covered.

There was a game a few years ago, I don't remember the year, when I got to The Stadium early, and stood with the kids looking for autographs -- and the grownups looking for autographs "for their kids" (as former Yankee pitcher Jim Bouton would say, "Yeah, surrrre") -- outside the players' entrance, which was right next to the media entrance. We always loved watching the broadcasters go in, too, especially Phil Rizzuto and Bobby Murcer.

And on this day, we saw Sheppard going in. He must've already been around 90 years old, but he was still driving himself, and while he walked slowly, he was under his own power, and people knew this was the face behind The Voice, and waved, and said, "Hello, Mr. Sheppard!" Never "Bob."

Like a wiseguy, I said, "Good afternoon, gentleman!" And he smiled back. That was a nice thrill.

He was married twice. With his 1st wife, Margaret, he had 4 children: Sons Paul and Chris, and daughters Barbara and Mary. He had 4 grandchildren and 9 great-grandchildren. Margaret died in 1959. In 1961, he married a woman named Mary, and they were together until his death, yesterday, at his home in Baldwin, Long Island, New York,

Former Yankee and Cleveland Indian broadcaster Paul Olden is the voice of the new Yankee Stadium. He does a good job.

But just as the new palace, no matter how many big moments and great players it hosts, will never be what the old Yankee Stadium was, Olden will never be what Sheppard was.

And yet, Sheppard was modest enough to say something like, "I had my chance, and I made the most of it. Mister Olden has his chance, and he's making the most of it. Good luck."

Thank you, Mr. Sheppard, for 30 seasons that I heard your voice, out of the 57 seasons you gave to Yankee Fans in general.

And now that you have met God, I don't think he's going to hold the nickname against you.

Looks like, yet again, the Yankees will compete wearing black armbands. When you have as many legends as they do, one or another of them is likely to have died. They might as well just leave the armbands on, just in case.

1 comment:

nutballgazette said...

Great post,
I was searching and finding interviews he did with others including one with the Late Angel Broadcaster Rory Markus and one other one and he refused to criticize directly the "Screamers" and also said that the Players of today are every bit as good or maybe better than the players of yesterday, He always remained classy.