Sunday, July 11, 2010

Bob Shepherd, PA Announcer and Gentlemanly Host of the Sporting World, Dies at 99

Bob Sheppard (October 20, 1910 – July 11, 2010)
The world of baseball lost a legend today, Bob Sheppard, affectionately known as the “voice of God” to New York area fans but at least the voice of Yankee stadium to everyone else, died at age 99. A Yankees game would not seem complete without Mr. Sheppard greeting fans, “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen...” and then would eloquently give the visiting teams’ and Yankees’ batting order. He faithfully manned his post from opening day 1951 into the final season at old Yankee Stadium where his service was limited due to illness.

The players he announced through the year reads as almost a proverbially who’s who of Cooperstown. Picture this, his first game featured the Yankees hosting the Red Sox. The Yankees lineup included Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Johnny Mize, Yogi Berra and “holy cow” even Phil Rizzuto. The Red Sox included the “Splendid Sprinter” Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, and Lou Boudreau. The first player he introduced, DiMaggio, of course, but wait, it was Dom DiMaggio, for the Red Sox. Mr. Sheppard was then paid fifteen dollars a game, seventeen for double headers.

Despite the rough and “in your face” personality associated with Yankees fan, Bob Sheppard exuded a sense of civility and social grace. In 1985 when the Yankees were locked in a pennant race with the Toronto Blue Jays, fans booed when opera singer, Robert Merrill, a frequent voice at Yankee Stadium sang the Canadian anthem after the “Star Spangled Banner” as is the courtesy when Canadian teams play in the United States. Prior to the next game, he reminded Yankees fans that Canadians were our allies in two world wars, served with us side-by-side in NATO, and helped free the Iranian Hostages.

Besides being there for numerous World Series and playoff games, Bob Shepherd was on hand when Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s homerun record in 1961, attempted to console the fans after the tragic death of Thurman Munson attempting to pilot a private aircraft. He also greeted Yankees fans after play resumed when baseball returned to a grieving New York City after 9/11. From the time the New York Giants moved to Yankees Stadium in 1956 continuing in that role through the 2005 season including a January 8, 2006 playoff loss to the Carolina Panthers.

The following spring, on April 11, 2006, he would miss his first game as PA announcer for the Yankees. He’d return the following home stand. Derek Jeter requested that hence forth, each time he’d come up to bat that he would have a recording of Shepherd announcing his at bat.

Shepherd was absent for the 2007 playoffs. Despite hoping to resume, bronchial illness prevented Shepherd from serving for the 2008 season giving the last year at Yankees’ Stadium an even more haunting tone. Unable to serve for the 2009 season, in November, 2009, Bob Shepherd finally announced his retirement.

Baseball is a sport of tradition. Beloved radio voices and PA announcers become intimate parts of the team’s history. Baltimore fans affectionately remember the time Rex Barney served at both Memorial Stadium and Camden Yards where Barney’s famous, “Thank yoooouuu!” became a part of local conversation. Shepherd’s service greeted Yankees fans for almost six full decades from Joe DiMaggio through Mickey Mantle to the rebuilding of the stadium in 1974-75 to the Reggie Jackson years, Don Mattingly, and on to the Derek Jeter Yankees. He’s seen it all.

One of the world’s most beloved connections with the sport of yesterday when there were only sixteen teams and only St. Louis across the Mississippi (just barely) to the hi-tech mad media world of thirty teams today from San Diego and Seattle staking out the western frontier to Toronto in the north and two teams in Florida to the south, Bob Shepherd was the gracious host of baseball’s greatest history of those years.

We will miss the man but hope his spirit of civility and sportsmanship will continue to serve as inspiration to us all.

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