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Remembering Bob Sheppard

Bob Sheppard

Back in the late 1980s on assignment for “Yankees Magazine,” a stint I held down for almost 18 years, I entered the tiny public address booth high up and behind home plate at Yankee Stadium.

 My objective was to do an interview with the legendary Bob Sheppard.

A cordial and elegant man, Sheppard took both my hands in his and smiling told me to take a seat and we would talk. The game was in progress. He was at work. I was concerned that my questions would interfere with his game announcements.

          “No problem,” he said, “Go right ahead. I have been doing this for a while  now.”

          He had. His first game was on April 17, 1951, Opening Day. The lineup at Yankee Stadium that day was:

Jackie Jensen lf

Phil Rizzuto ss

Mickey Mantle rf

Joe DiMaggio cf

Yogi Berra c

Johnny Mize 1b

Billy Johnson 3b

Jerry Coleman 2b

Vic Raschi p 

        Looking back at that long ago profile I did with the former St. John's quarterback and first baseman, I see that his favorite Yankee moments included: Larsen's Perfect Game, Maris hitting 61 home runs, Reggie's three home runs against the Dodgers and Mantle's shot almost over the roof.
      Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle are on Sheppard's all time favorite list. "DiMaggio's name was symbolic of the early Yankees," Sheppard said, "and "Mickey Mantle has a nice ring to it because the two 'Ms' make it alliterative. "I just loved announcing his name. And one day, shortly before he died, we were both being interviewed on a television program. All of a sudden, he turned to me and said - right there on the air - that every time he heard me announce his name, he got goose bumps. And I felt the same way about announcing him."
       Hundreds of eulogies have been written and delivered by Sheppard. "They ask me to do a eulogy. I try to tailor my remarks to the person I am eulogizing. Thurman Munson, Dick Howser, Billy Martin. Mickey Mantle's seemed to strike a cord because he died the night before."
        Now the man some call "The Voice of God" will no longer grace the Yankee mystique with his voice. Over Thanksgiving the 99-year-old announced his retirement as Public Address announcer for the New York Yankees:

 "I have no plans of coming back," Sheppard said. "Time has passed me by, I think. I had a good run for it. I enjoyed doing what I did. I don't think, at my age, I'm going to suddenly regain the stamina that is really needed if you do the job and do it well."

          Bob Sheppard surely did his job well. He was honored with a plaque in Monument Park on May 7, 2000, commemorating his 50th season with the Yankees: "For half a century,” the plaque reads, “he has welcomed generations of fans with his trademark greeting, 'Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Yankee Stadium.' 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."

When I began work on my “Remembering Yankee Stadium: An Oral and Narrative History of the House That Ruth Built,” the first one I thought of to interview and to write the book’s foreword was Bob Sheppard. How fortunate and honored I was that he agreed to do both.

Here is the foreword:

     Good Afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen. Welcome to Yankee Stadium.

By Bob Sheppard

  It's hard to believe that almost 60 years have past since I first delivered this greeting to Stadium fans. I could never have imagined when I joined the Yankees that I would be the public address announcer for almost 5,000 games of baseball played on these hallowed grounds. Although I wasn't a part of the Yankees during the Ruth-Huggins-Gehrig era, I've been privileged to announce the names of almost all of the great baseball stars of the past half century. Considering that my public address announcing career as merely been an avocation to my decades as a professor of public speech, I find this most remarkable indeed.

From the old days of the Stadium's visage wrapped with a copper façade and the sounds of Bronx cheers to the recent days of the Stadium's visage wrapped with Diamond Vision and the sounds of "We Will Rock You," the Yankee Stadium has been the citadel of sport. Where in one place could so many baseball icons display their rare talents with such regularity? Where could I have viewed the transformation of Yankee fans from the jacket and tie required cognoscenti of the 50s to today’s bleacher creatures. The public address announcer's chair has afforded me a virtual front row seat to Mickey Mantle’s s and Reggie Jackson's' towering home runs, Joe DiMaggio's final year of his brilliant career, the magic of Don Larsen's and David Cone's perfect games, 23 World Series & dozens of playoff contests, Roger Maris' 61st homer clouted under tremendous pressure from the press and the fans, the nimble play of Phil Rizzuto, Bobby Richardson, Elston Howard, Willie Randolph, Graig Nettles & Scott Brosius, the crackling sliders of Whitey Ford & Sparky Lyle, the dazzling sinkers of Mel Stottlemyre, the sublime fastballs of Ron Guidry, Rich Gossage, & Mariano Rivera, the determined perseverance of Yogi Berra, Gil McDougald, Lou Pinella & Paul O’Neill, the steady leadership of Thurman Munson & Don Mattingly, and the recent sheer pleasure of watching Derek Jeter blossom from raw rookie into classic Yankee champion. And what other chair could have given me the opportunity to observe the strategic and individual brilliance of Casey Stengel, George Weiss, Ralph Houk, Lee MacPhail, Gabe Paul, Billy Martin, Gene Michael, and Joe Torre?  

     From my cat-bird seats, first in the loge along the third base line and now from the press box behind home plate, I've witnessed the Stadium go from brown & green to white & blue and now to brand new. Bounties of treasured events and memories have sprung forth from this grand cathedral for me and for several generations of Yankee fans.  I extend my thanks and gratitude to Yankee owners Dan Topping & Del Webb, CBS & Mike Burke, and George Steinbrenner for allowing me this opportunity.

As author Harvey Frommer, in these pages, brings the Yankee Stadium past back to us in its full and vivid glory, I'll reflect upon my privileged past and present herein: I wish to be remembered as an announcer who carried the dignity and the style of the Yankee organization and tradition of this magnificent Stadium through the spoken word. My clear-concise-correct point-of-view has never allowed me to be a barker, a rooter, a screamer or a cheerleader. I've always aspired to be in harmony with the Yankee gestalt.

 Not a bad aspiration and accomplishment for a professor of public speech who arrived at the Yankee Stadium as a New York baseball Giants' fan!

My greatest wish is that the new Yankee Stadium brings yet another four score and five years of cherished and exciting memories to new generations of Yankee fans.

          Bob Sheppard added a grace, an intelligence, an elegance to the New York Yankee experience. He was one of a kind. 

Harvey Frommer is his 33rd consecutive year of writing sports books. The author of 40 of them including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE STADIUM, an oral/narrative history (Abrams, Stewart, Tabori and Chang) was published in 2008 as well as a reprint version of his classic "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball." Frommer's newest work CELEBRATING FENWAY PARK, an oral and narrative history, will be published in 2010.

Frommer sports books are available direct from the author - discounted and autographed.

FROMMER SPORTSNET (syndicated) reaches a readership in the millions and is housed on Internet search engines for extended periods of time.


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