Sunday, July 11, 2010

Farewell Mr. Sheppard!

Early this morning, longtime New York Yankees and New York Giants public address announcer, Bob Sheppard passed away.  Sheppard was 99 years old, and would have been 100 in October.  Sheppard served the New York community for over 50 years, calling the different baseball (1951-2007) and football (1956-2005) games between the two teams.

Sheppard began his career with the Yankees in 1951.  His debut, April 17, 1951 was also the same day legendary center fielder, Mickey Mantle too made his debut (Mantle was 21 years Sheppard's junior).  Although Mantle may have received more attention throughout his career, Sheppard was still highly regarded by the players, coaches and fellow media members who covered the team.

Sheppard had a philosophy to the way he introduced the players.  He believed that any PA announcer should be clear, concise, and correct, which to a fan should be nothing out of the ordinary.  Sheppard would actually be disappointed with many of the announcers that are around in this era across the major leagues (we won't even discuss the NBA as to honor Mr. Sheppard). Here's what he had to say about the state of the announcers a few years ago.
"A P.A. announcer is not a cheerleader, or a circus barker, or a hometown screecher," the epitome of the old-school style once said. "He's a reporter."

Fans can actually credit Sheppard for the correct pronunciation of Hall of Fame center fielder Joe Dimaggio's last name.  Sheppard believed that a "short a" would have been equivalent of nails on a chalk board.

Sheppard attended what was then St. John's College (now University) and was a seven time Varsity athlete.  He was both the College's quarterback as well as the first baseman and his graduating class president.  After graduating he moved on to Columbia University where he earned his master's degree in speech, where he soon became a college professor before leaving for the Yankees.

Players and fans received chills at the beginning of each game when Sheppard would simply greet everyone in the stadium with "Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Yankee Stadium."  Once the game began, players would walk as slow as they could to savor every last moment of hearing their named called by the almighty Sheppard.

Reggie Jackson dubbed him "the voice of God" and the nickname stuck, although Sheppard, a devout Catholic did not particularly like the nickname.

Before Sheppard took his extended leave of absence after what was eventually his last game on September 5, 2007, Derek Jeter asked Sheppard to record the introduction that Sheppard did for Jeter, so that he could always walk up to the plate for as long as he was a Yankee. Sheppard agreed to which he said was an honor to have a player of Jeter's calibre request his services.
"One of the greatest compliments I have received in my career of announcing," and wryly added, "The fact that he wanted my voice every time he came to bat is a credit to his good judgment and my humility."
For the record, Sheppard pronounces Jeter's name "Derek Jeet-tah". 

For every championship team that Sheppard was a apart of, he received a championship ring.  This includes countless World Series rings from the Yankees and a Super Bowl Ring for the four world championships with the New York Giants.  

Here is some reaction to the passing of Sheppard from the Yankees and around the world of sports:

Derek Jeter, shortstop:

"Players changed year in and year out, he was the one constant," said Jeter, who will continue to have a recording of Sheppard's voice announce his at-bats.
"Every time you heard it, you got chills," Jeter said of having Sheppard recite his name. "I remember him asking how to pronounce it to make sure he was pronouncing it right."
George Steinbrenner, Yankees owner:
"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."
John Mara, New York Giants co-owner:
"Bob Sheppard was the most distinguished and dignified voice in all of professional sports. We are very proud of the fact that he was the voice of the Giants for so many years. Bob was a true gentleman and the consummate professional. There will never be another one like him."
Joe Girardi, Yankees Manager:

"It is extremely sad," Girardi said. "When I think of Bob Sheppard, you think of all the tradition with the Yankees. You think about Ruth and Gehrig and Yogi and Joe D and Mantle and I think you mention Bob Sheppard. That's how important he was to this franchise."

"You realized you hit the big lights when Bob Sheppard announces your name."

As a fan that has grown up in the age of announcers who attempt to hype up the crowd while introducing the players, I wonder what it would have been like growing up in an era with announcers more like Sheppard. I question the announcers who feel the need to hype up the crowd for certain players.  Isn't that just contributing to the player's already enormous ego's?  I'm going to agree with what Sheppard said earlier about how it's his job as a media member to introduce the players.  

Even though Sheppard never slipped on the Pinstriped uniform or wore the royal blue of the Giants, he was a big member of both organizations.  He even has his own monument in the hallowed Monument Park at Yankee Stadium, which is reserved for Yankee greats like Ruth, Mantle and Yogi.

It will be interesting to see how both teams honor the greatest announcer in sports.  I expect the Yankees to add the black armband onto their sleeves when former or current players die.

I'll leave the post with the greatest tweet I saw from the day regarding Sheppard.  It's from ESPN writer J.A. Adande:

"Your attention please. Now ascending to heaven, Number 1, PA announcer, Bob Sheppard. Number 1."

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