Revered Yankees PA man Bob Sheppard dies at 99

July 11, 2010, 1:00 pm
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NEW YORK (AP) - Bob Sheppard, whose elegant introductions of
stars from Joe DiMaggio to Derek Jeter at Yankee Stadium for more
than a half century earned him the nickname "The Voice of God,"
died Sunday. He was 99.
     
The revered public address announcer died at his Long Island
home in Baldwin with his wife, Mary, at his side, the Yankees said.
      Sheppard started with the Yankees in 1951 and he last worked at
Yankee Stadium late in the 2007 season, when he became ill with a
bronchial infection. He recorded a greeting to fans that was played
at the original ballpark's final game on Sept. 21, 2008, and his
audio recording still is used to introduce Jeter before each at-bat
at home by the Yankees captain.
     
When the team moved into new Yankee Stadium last year, it
honored him by naming the media dining room after him.
     
While Sheppard didn't like to give his age, a former Yankees
official confirmed in 2006 that Sheppard was born Oct. 12, 1910.
     
The Yankees' lineup for Sheppard's first game on April 17, 1951,
included DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Johnny Mize, Yogi Berra, and Phil
Rizzuto. And the opponents that day, the Boston Red Sox, were led
by Ted Williams.
     
Sheppard became as much as a fixture in the Bronx ballpark as
the familiar white stadium facade or Monument Park, tucked behind
the blue outfield wall.
     
On May 7, 2000, after 50 years and two weeks on the job, the
team honored him with "Bob Sheppard Day" and put a plaque in his
honor in Monument Park. Fans gave Sheppard a standing ovation, and
legendary news anchor Walter Cronkite read the inscription. Berra,
Reggie Jackson and Don Larsen were among those who stood on the
field during the ceremonies.
    
"The voice of Yankee Stadium," read the plaque. "For half a
century, he has welcomed generations of fans with his trademark
greeting, 'Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Yankee Stadium."'
    
He also served as the stadium voice of the NFL's New York Giants
from 1956-05, and for men's basketball and football at St. John's
University, where he taught, for Army football and the Cosmos
soccer team. He also announced for the American Football League's
New York Titans at the Polo Grounds and the World Football League's
New York Stars at Downing Stadium.
     
But baseball is what made him famous. Babe Ruth gave Yankee
Stadium its nickname, but Sheppard gave the ballpark its sound.
     
He announced at 62 World Series games and a pair of All-Star
games, and introduced more than 70 Hall of Famers across his
career. It was one of them, Jackson, who dubbed Sheppard "The
Voice of God."
     
"A voice that you hear in your dreams, in your sleep," Braves
third baseman Chipper Jones said Sunday. "Today's a sad day."
     
Sheppard's player introductions remained consistent throughout
the decades, with Sheppard imbuing each name and number with a
gravitas more in keeping with a coronation than a ballpark outing:
"No. 7. Mickey Mantle. No. 7." Or even "No. 58. Dooley Womack.
No. 58."
     
Unlike the shrill shills of later generations, Sheppard
conducted himself with an understated and dignified delivery. He
employed perfect diction, befitting a man who considered his real
job teaching speech at St. John's. He graduated from the school in
1932 and later worked there for more than 25 years.
     
"A P.A. announcer is not a cheerleader, or a circus barker, or
a hometown screecher," the epitome of the old-school style once
said. "He's a reporter."
     
Sheppard's favorite Yankee Stadium moment was Larsen's perfect
game in the 1956 World Series, but his dulcet tones defined New
York sports for the second half of the 20th century and beyond. He
also was the stadium announcer for the "greatest football game
ever played," the Baltimore Colts' 23-17 sudden-death victory over
the Giants in 1958.
     
He was on hand when Roger Maris hit home run No. 61, when
Jackson hit three homers in a single World Series game, when the
Giants finally reached the Super Bowl. He never missed an opening
day at Yankee Stadium from 1951 until a hip injury sidelined him in
2006.
     
Sheppard, who followed the Giants across the Hudson River when
they moved to New Jersey, received a ring after the team won its
first Super Bowl in the 1986 season; it complemented his Yankees'
World Series jewelry. His football calls covered the Giants from
Frank Gifford through Tiki Barber.
     
While few might have recognized Sheppard in person, his voice
was unmistakable. Once, while ordering a Scotch and soda at a bar,
Sheppard watched as heads turned his way. He often read at Mass,
and was subsequently greeted by parishioners noting he sounded
exactly like the announcer at Yankee Stadium.
     
"I am," he would reply.
     
At his Yankees debut, the first name Sheppard announced was
DiMaggio - Dom DiMaggio, the center fielder for the Red Sox. The
Yankees' lineup included five Hall of Famers: Mantle, Joe DiMaggio,
Berra, Mize and Rizzuto; the Sox had three more, Williams, Bobby
Doerr and Lou Boudreau.
     
His favorite names to announce, in order, have been Mantle,
Shigetoshi Hasegawa, Salome Barojas, Jose Valdivielso and Alvaro
Espinoza. He preferred the names of Latin players.
     
"Anglo-Saxon names are not very euphonious," he said. "What
can I do with Steve Sax? What can I do with Mickey Klutts?"
     
But it wasn't the players who made Sheppard's work special.
     
"Mr. Sheppard could read Eminem lyrics and make them sound like
the Magna Carta," Clybe Haberman wrote in The New York Times five
years ago.
     
While he didn't like to reveal his age, it could be pinpointed
because he was the quarterback of St. John's football team from
1928-31. The left-hander was a first baseman for the university in
the springtime.
     
Sheppard began his announcing career at an exhibition football
game, which led to a job with the long defunct Brooklyn Dodgers of
the All-American Conference in 1947. When they folded a year later,
he was hired by the football New York Yankees, who played at Yankee
Stadium.
     
Management with the baseball Yankees liked his approach, and
Sheppard was on board for opening day in 1951.
     
Even the players treated Sheppard with a degree of reverence.
Mantle once said that every time Sheppard introduced him, he felt
goose bumps. "Mickey, so did I," Sheppard responded quietly.
     
Sheppard, while proud of his work with the Yankees, also was
known for his speaking as a church lector. He taught priests how to
give sermons.
     
"I electrified the seminary by saying seven minutes is long
enough on a Sunday morning. Seven minutes. But I don't think they
listened to me," he told The Associated Press in 2006. "The
best-known speech in American history is the Gettysburg Address,
and it's about four minutes long. Isn't that something?"
     
He said one of his most challenging tasks as a teacher was when
Jackson needed help with his Hall of Fame induction speech in 1993.
Jackson planned to speak for 40 minutes, and Sheppard implored him
to cut.
     
"Too much you," Jackson said slowly, mimicking Sheppard's
voice.
     
When Sheppard missed the 1997 division series, ending his streak
of 121 consecutive postseason games worked at Yankee Stadium, he
was replaced by Jim Hall, his longtime sub. Paul Olden took over
when the Yankees moved to the new ballpark in 2009.
     
In addition to his wife, Sheppard is survived by four children.
    
A wake will be held Tuesday and Wednesday, with the funeral
Thursday in Baldwin.
      ---
      Former Associated Press Writer Larry McShane contributed to this
report.
      
      (Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)
      

Tags: , Yankees, New York, Bob Sheppard
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