Monday, July 12, 2010

Bob Sheppard, Voice of the Yankees, Dies at 99

The New York Times
July 11, 2010

Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

Bob Sheppard, the Yankees' longtime announcer, was honored May 7, 2000, at Yankee Stadium.

Bob Sheppard, whose elegant intonation as the public-address announcer at Yankee Stadium for more than half a century personified the image of Yankees grandeur, died Sunday at his home in Baldwin, on Long Island. He was 99.

His death was confirmed by his son Paul.

From the last days of DiMaggio through the primes of Mantle, Berra, Jackson and Jeter, Sheppard’s precise, resonant, even Olympian elocution — he was sometimes called the Voice of God — greeted Yankees fans with the words, “Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to Yankee Stadium.”

“The Yankees and Bob Sheppard were a marriage made in heaven,” said Paul Sheppard, a 71-year-old financial adviser. “I know St. Peter will now recruit him. If you’re lucky enough to go to heaven, you’ll be greeted by a voice, saying: ‘Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to heaven!’ ”

In an era of blaring stadium music, of public-address announcers styling themselves as entertainers and cheerleaders, Sheppard, a man with a passion for poetry and Shakespeare, shunned hyperbole.

“A public-address announcer should be clear, concise, correct,” he said. “He should not be colorful, cute or comic.”

Sheppard was also the public-address announcer for the football Giants from 1956 through 2005, first at Yankee Stadium and then at Giants Stadium in the New Jersey Meadowlands.

He signed a new two-year contract with the Yankees in March 2008 but was not at the stadium that season, when he was recovering from illness that brought a severe weight loss. His longtime backup, Jim Hall, replaced him.

Sheppard did not feel strong enough to attend the ceremony marking the final game at the old Yankee Stadium on Sept. 21, 2008, but he announced the Yankees’ starting lineup that night in a tape recording. His recorded voice still introduces Derek Jeter at the plate, a touch the Yankees’ captain requested to honor Sheppard.

“He’s as much a part of this organization as any player,” Jeter said Sunday. “Even though the players change year in and year out, he was the one constant at Yankee Stadium. He was part of the experience.” Sheppard was the chairman of the speech department at John Adams High School in Queens and an adjunct professor of speech at St. John’s University while becoming a New York institution as a public-address announcer.

“I don’t change my pattern,” he once said. “I speak at Yankee Stadium the same way I do in a classroom, a saloon or reading the Gospel at Mass at St. Christopher’s.”

On May 7, 2000, Bob Sheppard Day at Yankee Stadium, the Yankees outfielder Paul O’Neill reflected on Sheppard’s aura.

“It’s the organ at church,” O’Neill told The Record of Hackensack, N.J. “Certain sounds and certain voices just belong in places. Obviously, his voice and Yankee Stadium have become one.”

Robert Leo Sheppard, who was born on Oct. 20, 1910, gained a passion for his calling while growing up in Queens.

“My father, Charles, and my mother, Eileen, each enjoyed poetry and music and public speaking,” Sheppard told Maury Allen in “Baseball: The Lives Behind the Seams.” “They were very precise in how they spoke,” he said. “They measured words, pronounced everything carefully and instilled a love of language in me by how they respected proper pronunciation.”

Sheppard played first base at St. John’s Prep and at St. John’s University, where he was also a quarterback.

While he was in high school, two Vincentian priests put him on the path toward a career in speech education.

“The combination there of one, the fiery orator, and the other, the semantic craftsman, probably presented a blending I wanted to imitate,” he once recalled.

Sheppard earned a bachelor’s degree in English and speech at St. John’s and a master’s degree in speech from Columbia before serving as a Navy officer during World War II. He became a speech teacher at John Adams upon his return and served as the public-address announcer for the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Yankees of the All-America Football Conference.

He was hired by the baseball Yankees in 1951, and soon fans were hearing Sheppard’s pronunciation of “Joe Di-Mah-ggio.”

“I take great pride in how the names are pronounced,” Sheppard said. He seldom entered the clubhouses, but made certain to check directly with a visiting player if he had any doubt on the correct way to pronounce his name.

“Mick-ey Man-tle” was a favorite of his, but as Sheppard once told The Associated Press: “Anglo-Saxon names are not very euphonious. What can I do with Steve Sax? What can I do with Mickey Klutts?”

He enjoyed announcing the name of the Japanese pitcher Shigetoshi Hasegawa and the names of Latin players, particularly pitcher Salome Barojas and infielder Jose Valdivielso.

Sheppard feared he would trip over his pronunciation of Wayne Terwilliger, an infielder who played at Yankee Stadium with the Washington Senators and Kansas City Athletics in the 1950s. “I worried that I would say ‘Ter-wigg-ler’ but I never did,” he recalled.

But there was at least one flub.

When the football Giants played their first game at the Meadowlands, against the Dallas Cowboys in October 1976, Sheppard told the crowd: “Welcome to Yankee Stadium.”

On Bob Sheppard Day — during his 50th year with the Yankees — he was honored at a home-plate ceremony in which Walter Cronkite read the inscription on the plaque being unveiled for Monument Park behind the left-field fence. It stated in part that Sheppard “has announced the names of hundreds of players — both unfamiliar and legendary — with equal divine reverence.”

George Steinbrenner, the principal owner of the Yankees, said in a statement: “For over a half-century, fans were thrilled to hear his unforgettable voice and players were thrilled to hear his majestic enunciation of their names. Bob Sheppard was a great member of the Yankees family and his death leaves a lasting silence.”

He leaves behind his second wife, Mary; two sons, Paul and Chris; and two daughters, Barbara and Mary. His first wife, Margaret, the mother of all four children, died in 1959. He also leaves four grandchildren.

Sheppard had his imitators, most notably the ESPN broadcaster Jon Miller.

“One day when my wife and I were down in St. Thomas, we went into a restaurant,” Sheppard told The Village Voice in 2002. “I told the waitress, ‘I’ll have the No. 1. Scrambled eggs, buttered toast and black coffee. No. 1.’ My wife looked at me and said. ‘You sound like Jon Miller’s imitation.’ I wasn’t conscious of the fact that I was ordering the same way I’d introduce Billy Martin.”

Ben Shpigel contributed reporting from Seattle and Joseph Berger from New York.

Simple Intonation, a Lasting Impression

The New York Times
July 11, 2010

Ten summers ago, when Bob Sheppard was not yet 90, I stepped into his tiny booth at Yankee Stadium and asked him for his first memory of being at the ballpark.

He looked up from the book he was reading — he read before games and between batters — and asked in that amazing voice of his: “Would you like my memory of the first game I attended or my memory of my first game as the public-address announcer?”

“Both,” I said. He could have narrated his first jaunt for a hot dog for all I cared.

N.Y. Daily News Archive, via Getty Images

The announcer Bob Sheppard at Yankee Stadium in 1972

His first reminiscence placed his visit in the early 1920s, perhaps when he was in his early teens. It was a general memory, not a box score recitation, but he offered it with excitement and a touch of historical perspective.

“I was a young lad sitting in right field in the bleachers and watched people like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, and a fellow named Williams, not Ted Williams, but Ken Williams, of the St. Louis Browns,” he said, with his characteristic precision and slow cadence. “My idol was George Sisler, who was a perfect first baseman in my mind.”

Then came his memory from 1951, his first as the Yankees public-address announcer.

“The Yankees lineup had Johnny Mize at first, Jerry Coleman at second, Phil Rizzuto at short, Billy Johnson at third,” he said. “Jackie Jensen played left, DiMaggio played center and Mickey Mantle played right. Yogi Berra was the catcher and a fellow named Vic Raschi was the pitcher, and we beat the Boston Red Sox. And five of those starting nine are in the Hall of Fame.”

No doubt that the story of his rookie game, really not much more than a defensive alignment, was frequently requested by those who met him, much the way fans asked Sinatra to sing “My Way.” But he delivered his lines as if he were telling them for the first time.

Sheppard’s death Sunday is a reminder of how much he transcended his role as a public-address announcer. How many famous public-address announcers are there? How many are renowned like Sheppard? How many prompted imitations the way Sheppard did?

His fame rivaled, and even exceeded, that of many of the men who occupied the broadcast booth for the Yankees. That is not an insult, it’s just a fact. He did not have to speak for three hours to become famous. He said very little but he became known as the Voice of God, whose intonations sent chills through players and fans. If the Yankees were arrogant, Sheppard was elegant. In the Yankees’ down years, he offered up his class.

Does anyone recall who preceded him?

Sheppard’s role was a simple one: he greeted us, announced the lineups, told us who was at the plate and who was pitching, and told us to drive home safely.

He once joked that all he had was longevity, but longevity, mixed with his clarity, restraint from any silliness and that marvelous voice made him a star.

He was not inspired to a speech career by any sports voice, but by two Vincentian priests, one a “fiery orator,” and the other a “semantic craftsman,” he once said.

The Sheppard style was founded on several principles.

He thought that a man’s name was a personal treasure. So he lingered over names. He respected them. He especially loved the mellifluous ones (“Mick-ey Man-tle”) and the foreign ones (“Al-va-ro Es-pi-no-za”). He once fretted in the 1950s that he would mispronounce infielder Wayne Terwilliger’s name as “Ter-wigg-ler.” But he did not err.

Two, he thought that people spoke too quickly. So he spoke slowly. His cadence at home, in his high school and college speech classes, at a local bar or at Mass was the same as it was when he was announcing at the stadium. Ve-ry de-li-ber-ate-ly.

Three, he felt that his role required him to be “be clear, concise, correct.”

Sheppard’s passing feels like the loss of a significant representative of civility in the world. That quality, in addition to his remarkable voice, will be greatly missed.

A Voice That Stayed Above the Fray

The New York Times
July 11, 2010

JOHANNESBURG — Bob Sheppard liked the air of mystery about his age. It was funny watching such a solid person, based in faith and education, grow a trifle coy about the year of his birth. But he was always specific about being born on Oct. 20.

It was also Mickey Mantle’s birthday, but Bob did not live off that coincidence of two Yankees legends sharing a birthday. Bob had an ego, liked being the voice echoing around Yankee Stadium, saying, “No. 2, Derek Jee-tah,” but he did not need to be around the players.

Don Emmert/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Bob Sheppard, the voice of the New York Yankees, held up his microphone which he presented to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in July 2000.

They did what they did out on the field, and he did what he did up on the booth. Here’s a little secret: between plays, Bob read books, hardcover books from home or the library. He was a voice, not a ballpark celebrity.

How strange it is to be missing a chance to see Nelson Mandela, 91, circle the field in a golf cart in order to write about another man I admired, but from up close. Bob was more than 99 when he died Sunday after the illnesses that diminished him in the past few years. He was vague about them, too.

I’ve known him since 1960, when I covered my first Yankee games as a young reporter. That summer, my wife and I, just married, would see him at Jones Beach strolling along the tide line with his wife, Mary. They were newlyweds, too; Bob’s first wife had died, but I did not know that at the time. They were a handsome couple. I reminded him of that recently, how I used to see him at the beach. He liked that, the memory of being a former St. John’s quarterback, tall, young and strolling the beach with his new wife.

In recent years, when he was temporarily not going to Yankee Stadium — but definitely not retired — I would go see him; he was a little weaker each time. Recently I called, and he slowly let me know that he had fallen and was not going downstairs these days.

He was as strong in his Roman Catholic faith as anybody I knew. He hated to admit he could no longer serve as a lector. His faith never wavered in the trying days. His daughter is a nun. He referred to Mary as “my archangel,” meaning she saved his life, day by day.

Better to think of him younger, wearing tweedy professorial jackets, a note of class in the press dining room. He had his own little table in the corner at the old Yankee Stadium. The conversation went round and round, rarely about baseball. He did not need the reflected glory. The only time I would see him on the field was when he checked out the pronunciation of a new player’s name. In an earlier time, when baseball was not yet comfortable with Latino players, he made sure to give Minnie Miñoso his tilde. Later, he delighted in getting the pronunciation right for Shigetoshi Hasegawa.

But he was not a fan. That is what people missed about Bob. He did not have gossip about players, insights into managers, theories about strategy. In the past few years, I would casually ask if he followed the Yankees or their broadcasters or even how his successors were doing with their own echoes in Yankee Stadium, and he seemed a bit vague.

The last time I called, I noted that he had a special birthday coming up. It was the first time he had ever allowed me to refer, however obliquely, to his actual age. I don’t think he was anticipating a 100th birthday celebration. He was as secure about that as he was about everything else.

Voice of late Yankees PA announcer Bob Sheppard carried across Yankee Stadium through multiple eras

By Mike Lupica
The Daily News
Monday, July 12th 2010, 7:47 AM


Bob Sheppard, the New York Yankees' public address announcer for 57 years, sits in the booth at Yankee Stadium in 2003. Sheppard died Sunday at the age of 99.

The other voices of the Yankees, the voices on radio and then television with whom we all grew up, they came and went. Always though, in all the important ways, there was Bob Sheppard, above it all at Yankee Stadium.

"The modern PA announcers like to shout," he said outside his booth one night at the old Stadium, "to do everything and anything to draw attention to themselves. That has never been my style."

But that is why Sheppard became the height of style. That is why he did draw so much attention to himself over nearly 60 years as the voice of the Yankees over the public-address system, what Reggie Jackson first called "the voice of God."

Bob Sheppard's voice carried.

"The voice wasn't just real," Reggie said to me Sunday afternoon. "It was noble."

It isn't just PA announcers who try to draw attention to themselves now in the boom-box culture of modern sports, where a trip to a ballpark, including the new Yankee Stadium, to any football stadium or arena, makes you feel as if you are trapped inside a speaker at some video arcade. It is everyone yelling for us to pay attention to them. To see them. Hear them.

Then there was Mr. Sheppard of the Yankees, who died Sunday at the age of 99, more than 59 years after he first began speaking into his microphone in April 1951, at the beginning of Mickey Mantle's first season with the Yankees and Joe DiMaggio's last.

From the start, his voice was like Shakespeare in a park. Just a ballpark. He was immediately part of this golden age of baseball, not just at the Stadium, but in New York. The Dodgers were still in Brooklyn and the Giants were at the Polo Grounds, and during the '50s, there would be just one World Series - in 1959, the Los Angeles Dodgers (by then) against the Chicago White Sox - that did not include at least one New York City team. Sometimes two.

So a voice that really did seem as suited to a Broadway stage as the great baseball stage in the Bronx became permanently attached to the fine memories of that time. Bob Sheppard's voice, and his presence. And his permanence.

There was something else: Hearing him was not hearing the game on radio or television. Bob Sheppard meant you were inside. You were at the game. At Yankee Stadium.

He came in with Mantle and was there when George Steinbrenner brought Reggie Jackson to town, and the Yankees won their first World Series since the early '60s.

Finally Sheppard was still up in his booth, still above it all, when Joe Torre and Derek Jeter and Mo Rivera showed up to put the Yankees back on top, win them four World Series in five years. So much had changed by then, not just in baseball, and not just in New York. Sports had changed. Sheppard had not. Everybody had an act except this one elegant man. Short for gentleman.

He still talked with great pride about being clear, about being concise, about being correct, the same things he had taught in his speech classes, first at John Adams High School and later at St. John's. It is no coincidence that Jeter eventually asked that Sheppard's voice be put on tape, so that even after Bob Sheppard was too frail to keep coming to work - his last game was in 2007 - he could still introduce Jeter when it was time for Jeter to step into the batter's box.

Class introducing class.

There will be a ceremony at the new Stadium when the season resumes after the All-Star break, and Sheppard will be properly honored by the Yankees one last time. The only thing wrong with all this, of course, is that Sheppard himself will not be the one introducing it all, bringing us to the moment and taking us back in time, to when Mantle was young and DiMaggio was old, when Scooter was still at short and Yogi was behind the plate and the day at the ballpark, or night, would begin and end with his voice.

All over the radio, and television, you heard Bob Sheppard Sunday. Only you didn't need the audio, didn't need the tape. All you had to do was close your eyes. Think about the first time you were inside the old Stadium. Try seeing that place, even in memory, without hearing him. The voice carried.

Bob Sheppard, New York Yankees legend and voice of the Bronx Bombers, has died at 99

By Bill Madden
The Daily News
Sunday, July 11th 2010, 10:49 AM


Bob Sheppard, who had a streak of 121 consecutive postseason games as the Stadium public address announcer, sits in the dugout before Game 4 of the ALDS against the Los Angeles Angels in 2005.

The "Voice of God" is silenced.

Bob Sheppard, the beloved Yankee Stadium public address announcer for 57 years, died Sunday at his home in Baldwin, L.I., his wife, Mary, by his side. He was 99.

Reggie Jackson is credited with aptly dubbing Sheppard "the Voice of God" for his introduction of players in a resonant baritone, delivered with perfect elocution at Yankee Stadium from April 17, 1951, until 2007, when Sheppard was felled by a bronchial infection, fatigue and weight loss that caused him to break his streak of 121 consecutive postseason games as the Stadium public address announcer. His hand-picked assistant and periodic sub, Jim Hall, succeeded him that season but when the Yankees moved to the new Yankee Stadium in 2009, Paul Olden was hired for the P.A. duties.

During his first 50 years behind the Stadium mike, Sheppard missed only five games, all of them for family commitments, and he also did P.A. for the football Giants from 1956 (when they played at Yankee Stadium) to 2005. On May 7, 2000, Sheppard was honored by the Yankees with the 17th plaque in the Stadium's Monument Park, on which is inscribed: "His clear, concise and correct vocal style has announced the names of hundreds of players - both unfamiliar and legendary - with equal divine reverence, making him as synonymous with Yankee Stadium as its copper façade and Monument Park."

Born Oct. 12, 1910, Sheppard was a speech major at St. John's and a lefthanded quarterback on the football team from 1928-31. He was teaching speech and earning $25 a week when he was hired by the Brooklyn Dodgers of the long-defunct professional All-American Football Conference, who played their games at Ebbets Field. When the Dodgers folded he moved to the Yankees in the same league where, at Yankee Stadium, Dan Topping, owner of the baseball Yankees, liked his work and hired him in 1951 to replace Arthur (Red) Patterson, who had been doubling up as the team's promotions director and P.A. announcer.

Through the years, Sheppard's signature introductions - "Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, welcome ... to Yankee Stadium, here are the lineups: Batting first, num-buh eighteen, Johnny Da-mon, num-buh 18. Batting second, num-buh two, De-rek Jet-uh, num-buh two ... " - became part of Stadium lore. (When the Yankees moved to Shea Stadium during the renovation of Yankee Stadium in 1974-75, Sheppard was careful to alter his greeting to: "The Yankees welcome you to Shea Stadium.") And he had an equally classic "exit" announcement - "Thank you for coming and arrive home safely" - that, in the early '80s was replaced by what he called "an even bigger voice" in Frank Sinatra, singing "New York, New York."

On May 7, 2000, Sheppard is honored by the Yankees with the 17th plaque in Yankee Stadium's Monument Park.

So admired and revered by the players was Sheppard that after he took ill Jeter asked that a recording of Sheppard introducing him be used whenever he came to bat. And Jackson often recalled the time in Boston when, as he approached the plate for his first at-bat, he was startled to hear the voice of Sheppard come over the Fenway Park P.A. system: "Now batting, num-buh 44, Reg-gie Jack-son." Sheppard, it seemed, had been a visitor in the Fenway Park press box and was asked if he would like to do a cameo intro.

And he was probably the only Yankee employee in the more than 35 years of George Steinbrenner's often tyrannical ownership who was never threatened with being fired by The Boss. That's not to say, however, he didn't come close. In a game against the Toronto Blue Jays in September 1985, Steinbrenner became infuriated after a guest singer named Mary O'Dowd butchered the Canadian national anthem, and the next day arranged for an apology to be announced to the citizens of Canada. Sheppard was having dinner in the Stadium press room when the call came down from Steinbrenner's secretary that his presence was required in the owner's office upstairs.

"Tell him I'll be up as soon as I finish my dinner," Sheppard said.

When informed of Sheppard's response, Steinbrenner was taken aback.

"Doesn't he know who owns this team?" he bellowed.

About 15 minutes later, Sheppard arrived in Steinbrenner's office, took his seat to the right of the Yankee boss at the big round table, and handed him a piece of paper on which he'd written his own version of the apology. Steinbrenner, who had already drafted a three-page statement, citing the Canadians for, among other things, their help in the U.S. hostage crisis in Iran, perused the one Sheppard had written and said: "Okay, that's fine, but I want to add some other things."

"I don't think that would be a good idea," Sheppard said, to Steinbrenner's further astonishment. "It should be succinct."

"I must say," Sheppard told me one of the last times we talked on the phone, "in all the years with George, he never yelled at me or had a cross word with me or tried to force some announcement on me that I didn't think appropriate."

A few years ago, I asked Sheppard which were his most favorite names to announce.

"Mickey Mantle, for one," he said, "because of the perfect alliteration. A perfect name for a ballplayer, I would say. A nice rhythm to it. On the other hand, we had a second baseman named Steve Sax. There's no rhythm to Steve Sax - two staccato sounds! But if I had to pick just one it would probably be the Japanese pitcher for the Angels, Shi-ge-toe-shee Ha-se-gaw-a! Just wonderful! How much fun it was to work my tongue around that one!"

Sheppard later sent me a poem entitled: "A Poetic Tribute to Baseball's Hispanic Names" in which he penned:

"There are certain names that go over well

Like Pena, Ramos and Carrasquel

With liquid sounds so panoramic

And strangely they are all Hispanic

Aurelio, Hipolito, Cecilio, Domingo

Have a lovelier sound than American lingo

What other name could I tell so musically as Valdivielso?

And no other native name could ever show us the splendor

Of Salome Barojas!"

Though he was the standard-bearer for being "clear, concise and correct," Sheppard was nevertheless guilty of an occasional flub through the years, the most notable during a game in 1982 in which Yankee reliever Shane Rawley came in with the bases loaded and promptly gave up a double into the gap in left-center that scored all the runners. Not realizing the pedal to his microphone had accidentally gotten stuck, Sheppard off-handedly said to a visitor in his booth: "Now that's relief pitching!" Moments later, he was mortified upon realizing his words had gone out to everyone in the ballpark. The next day he went down to the clubhouse to personally apologize to Rawley.

Bob Sheppard exuded dignity and gentility. He was a forever good humor man who spoke eloquently about everything and ill of no one. To the best of my knowledge, there were only two things that would bring a frown to his face in conversation: Foul language and questions about his age. Jim Bouton, the iconoclastic Yankee pitcher-turned-author, found out the hard way about the latter. Working as a broadcaster for WCBS-TV years ago, Bouton had arranged for an interview with Sheppard in the press box during a game. With his crew all set up, Bouton said to Sheppard: "Let's start by asking: 'How old are you, Bob?'" to which Sheppard replied tersely: "This interview is over."

It was perfectly understandable that Sheppard, who is survived by his wife, Mary, and four children, took umbrage at such an impertinent question. To him, age was irrelative. It was always his spirit that kept him forever young. And besides, did anyone ever ask how old God was?

A wake will be held Tuesday and Wednesday at the Fullerton Funeral Home, 769 Merrick Rd., Baldwin, L.I., from 2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. each day. The funeral will be held Thursday at 10:45 a.m. at St. Christopher's Church, 11 Gale Ave., Baldwin.

No comments: