Thursday, April 02, 2009

Voice of Yankee Stadium May Be Done

The New York Times
April 2, 2009

The new Yankee Stadium will sound different from the old one because Bob Sheppard’s authoritative voice will not be emanating from the public address system. Paul Doherty, an agent who is one of Sheppard’s friends, said Sheppard’s son Paul told him Wednesday that Sheppard was planning to retire.

Richard Perry/The New York Times

Bob Sheppard, who started as the Yankees' announcer in 1951, hadn't missed an opening day until 2006 when an injury kept him out of the announcer's box.

“I think Bob just wants to take it easy and no longer have the pressure of ‘Can he? Will he? Or won’t he?’ ” Doherty said in an e-mail message. “And, at 98, who can blame him?”

Despite Doherty’s disclosure, Sheppard, who has been the P.A. announcer for the Yankees since 1951, declined to say that he was retiring. When asked if he was officially leaving the position, Sheppard said, “I never said it.”

Sheppard missed the 2008 season with a bronchial infection and will not work the exhibition games at the Stadium on Friday and Saturday or the home opener April 16. Sheppard also missed the final game at Yankee Stadium in September, although he prerecorded the lineups.

When Sheppard was asked about his plans for the season, he said: “I never said I’m not returning. I never, never said I’m not returning and I say it to you now.” Then Sheppard said “thank you” and hung up the telephone.

Jason Zillo, a Yankees spokesman, talked with Paul Sheppard and said that he “has not said anything remotely like” what Doherty said about his father. After the news was publicized, Doherty sent an e-mail message saying he misunderstood what Paul Sheppard had said. Doherty said Paul Sheppard was referring to his father’s missing opening day, not the entire season.

Sheppard is 98 and was not the P.A. announcer last year. Sheppard has a hallowed position in the Yankees’ rich history and is protective of it.

He did his first Yankees game on April 17, 1951, announcing a lineup that included Phil Rizzuto, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio and Yogi Berra.

In a statement released by the team, Sheppard said his doctor had advised him to wait until he was ready to try to work again. The Yankees could not estimate when that might be.

“It’s in the hands of God,” said Sheppard, who has been a P.A. announcer for about 4,500 games. “I am looking forward to doing games in the new Stadium.”

In Doherty’s initial e-mail message, he noted that the last lineup Sheppard announced was also his first. Two months ago, Doherty taped Sheppard recreating the first lineup he ever announced 58 years ago and is adding crowd noise to it.

“Now, on to him seeing his 100th birthday in a year and a half,” Doherty said.

Jim Hall, Sheppard’s longtime and handpicked backup, will not replace Sheppard. Paul Olden will be the P.A. announcer for the exhibition games with the Chicago Cubs this weekend and for the first game at the Stadium against the Cleveland Indians in two weeks.

Beyond that, the Yankees have not said who will handle the P.A. duties.

Times Topics: Bob Sheppard

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