Bob Sheppard, 1910-2010

Bob Sheppard, whose voice was so synonymous with Yankee Stadium that many of us who had heard him since our youths still hear him in the background of our dreams, has died at the age of 99. 

Mr. Sheppard had suffered through severe congestion for most of the last season in the old park in 2008, and though he held hopes of opening the new stadium last year, he never made it back. His family had reported as late as the end of the Yankee homestand last Sunday, that he was happy, alert, and feeling well – not strong enough to get far from his home, but well enough to have enjoyed a cocktail. Yankee Stadium videographers were in the process of compiling a second tape of greetings and well wishes from those of us at the Stadium who knew him and missed not merely the quality of the work but more importantly the quality of the man. 
His sense of humor was nearly as legendary as his enunciation and the meticulousness of his preparation. He had joined the Yankees so long ago – 1951 – that it was a point of perverse pride that the team had no record of who preceded him, and said so in its media guide. When I picked up the gauntlet of research I went first to Mr. Sheppard himself and asked him if, by chance, he knew but just hadn’t been asked. “Yes,” he intoned, pausing just as he did while behind the microphone. “Methusaleh,” he said with a laugh, referencing a biblical figure who lasted into quadruple figures.
It turned out Bob had actually been hired by Red Patterson, the Yankees’ public relations director of the time. 

Sheppard1998.jpg

In the ’40s and ’50s, public address announcing at Yankee Stadium – and elsewhere – was an afterthought. Patterson did it in between bon mots with the writers. He and other Yankee officials attended a football game played by the old Yankees of the All American Football Conference and were struck by the professionalism and thoroughness of the PA announcer there. They approached him as early as 1948 about doing baseball, but Sheppard could not fit the team’s weekday schedule into his full-time life as a speech professor at St. John’s University. Bob was more of a football guy anyway – he had quarterbacked St. John’s in the ’30s – and once confessed to me with a laugh that he had never attended a baseball game at Yankee Stadium until the team hired him during what would be Mickey Mantle’s first year (and Joe DiMaggio’s last). 
In the new job, Sheppard essentially invented the process with which we are familiar today. Before him, stadium announcers rarely provided any information to the audience. Line-ups would be announced, and then each batter’s first plate appearance as we, but often thereafter the fan was on his own. The idea of the dramatic announcement in the ninth inning of a tie in the Bronx: “Now batting for the Yankees, number seven, Mickey 
Mantle,” was Sheppard’s. It truly changed not just the fans’ experience at the game, but the game itself. 
I will add more reminiscences of Bob Sheppard throughout the day here – including the story of the above photograph with Tony Gwynn – as opportunities present themselves.

14 Comments

What a huge loss for the baseball community. My deepest condolences to his friends and family. Thank you for sharing this with us, Keith.

So very sad for his loss…it’s seems that we are losing so many of our greats and I just don’t see anyone really being able to fill their shoes. TY for sharing,Keith…we look forward to more of your memories. Mom_with2boys

A friend of mine once worked with him for a day (I think he was doing a guest spot on that Paul Reiser sitcom) and he got Mr. Sheppard to record a batting announcement for me. He announced me as the starting Cleveland Indians Centerfielder and he gave me Mickey Mantle’s number. And I got the double #7. One of the happiest moments of my baseball life. And something that Mr. Sheppard did for probably thousands of people over the years.

What a loss…

Really sad news. Thanks for the post, Keith.

I’m sorry to hear this news. It was a blow to me when Harry Kalas, the Phillies play-by-play man for almost 4 decades, died last year … and I was only a fan, not a friend. I cannot imagine how much worse you must feel.

We knew this day was coming but it is still sad, It was 9 years ago today My Mom passed away so this just makes this date that much sadder for me

Thank you for the excellent thoughts, Keith. Look forward to reading more.

The D-Backs radio guy, Greg Schulte just called his 2000 game yesterday. He was awarded with a bobblehead day. I wonder with a career as long as his, how many games games did Mr. Sheppard have under his belt? Anyone? Keith?

“Now entering Heaven… Public Address Announcer… Bob Sheppard-d-d-d… Public Address Announcer.” RIP, Mr. Sheppard.

Thank you for this, Keith. As I mentioned elsewhere, most of us can only hope to have a positive impact on the world we leave behind, and to live on in so many memories.

Keith, those of us who are new to the sport are counting on you and others to keep history alive, that we might enjoy what we’ve been missing.

As always, thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.

Lovely tribute, Keith. I also think Derek Jeter deserves a special kudo for his love of history for having a recording of Bob Sheppard played to introduce him–and I hope that continues.

I am not sure when Tex Rickard started at Ebbets Field, but he was the opposite of Sheppard. Sheppard embodied the dignity for which the Yankee franchise was supposed to stand. Rickard was as wacky as the stadium where he worked and the fans who were in it. I also would like to say a nice word for John Ramsey, who did the Dodgers, Rams, Lakers, and college football around LA for many years–like Sheppard, dignified. I can’t stand the PA men and women who try to whip up the crowd.

Finally, we mourn, but here was a man, from all reports just a lovely man, who lived a long and almost completely healthy life, doing what he loved to do. We mourn our loss.

Sheppard was elected to the St. John?s University Sports Hall of Fame, the Long Island Sports Hall of Fame, and the New York Sports Hall of Fame. He was awarded honorary doctorates from St. John?s University (Pedagogy) and Fordham University (Rhetoric), and in 2007, received St. John?s? Medal of Honor, the highest award that the university can confer on a graduate.erwin@70-29370-294
thanks to share great post

Sheppard embodied the dignity for which the Yankee franchise was supposed to stand. Rickard was as wacky as the stadium where he worked and the fans who were in it. I also would like to say a nice word for John Ramsey, who did the Dodgers, Rams, Lakers, and college football around LA for many years–like Sheppard, dignified.

Girl:

i actually think Ramsey, not Sheppard, invented announcing batters all the way through the game, because fans in LA were used to this being done in the minor leagues. Certainly Sheppard wasn’t doing it in 1956 when Larson’s perfect game was pitched– you don’t hear any announcements other than changes on the telecast.

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