Remembering Yankees PA announcer Bob Sheppard
NEW YORK (WABC) -- His voice became as famous as the team itself, echoing in Yankee Stadium for more than a half century.
Bob Sheppard died at his Baldwin, N.Y., home on Sunday. He was 99.
Sheppard became the PA announcer at the old Yankee Stadium in 1951 and 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.
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He last worked late in the 2007 season, when he became ill with a bronchial infection. He told MLB.com in 2009 that he had no intention of returning to the job.
Sheppard was originally a speech teacher in the New York City school system and at St. John's University when he joined the Yankees. Yankee officials heard him deliver a tribute to Babe Ruth at a local football game in 1948.
They offered him a job on the spot which he did not accept until three years later when the Yankees guaranteed him an understudy so his duties with the team would not interfere with his teaching.
Sheppard made his debut at Yankee Stadium on April 17, 1951, when New York beat Boston 5-0 on Opening Day.
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: Mickey 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.
His rich, resonant voice and eloquant style is still the standard by which other stadium PA announcers are judged.
He also served as the stadium voice of the NFL's New York Giants from 1956-2005, 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.
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.
Sheppard, whom Reggie Jackson nicknamed the "Voice of God" for his distinct tone, called out names from Joe DiMaggio to Mickey Mantle to Derek Jeter in his tenure at Yankee Stadium. For the final game at the old Yankee Stadium in 2008, he recorded a greeting to fans and the introduction of New York's starting lineup.
In May 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 announced at 62 World Series games and a pair of All-Star games, and introduced more than 70 Hall of Famers across his career.
His player introductions remained consistent throughout the decades, with Sheppard imbuing each name and number with a gravitas more befitting a coronation than a ballpark: "No. 7. Mickey Mantle. No. 7." Or even "No. 58. Dooley Womack. No. 58."
His audio recording still is used to introduce Jeter before each at-bat at home by the Yankees captain.
"I'm not the guy who says: 'Time to rumble.' Rather than a barker, a rooter, a screamer, or a cheerleader, I have always aspired to be in harmony with the Yankee gestalt," Sheppard wrote in the 2008 book Remembering Yankee Stadium: An Oral and Narrative History of "The House That Ruth Built."
"(I hope) I will be remembered as an announcer who carried the dignity and the style of the Yankee organization and the tradition of this magnificent Stadium through clear, concise, correct spoken words," he wrote.
When the team moved into new Yankee Stadium last year, it honored him by naming the media dining room after him.
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.
The Yankees owner, George Steinbrenner, released a statement saying:
"I am deeply saddened by the death today of Bob Sheppard, a good friend and fine man whose voice set the gold standard for America's sports announcers. 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. My thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Mary, and their family."
Sheppard was also a speech and debate coach for Sacred Heart Academy's Forensic Team in Hempstead, New York. He also served St. John's as a PA announcer for sporting events, including men's basketball and varsity football, into the 1990s.
Sheppard maintained that his work as a professor of speech was far more important than his work as an announcer. He said that as an announcer, "All I have to recommend is longevity."
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.
Information from The Associated Press and ESPN included in this story.
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