Bob Sheppard and Preparation

I’ve heard the story with several different players, one of them being the delightfully-named Kenny Szotkiewicz, utility infielder of the 1970 Detroit Tigers. When such an idiosyncratic name would appear on Bob Sheppard’s scorecard at Yankee Stadium, he would take no chances. He would go to the visitors’ clubhouse (and especially in the pre-renovation Stadium of the ’50s, ’60s, and early ’70s, this meant more than just a quick trip into the elevator) and ask someone he knew to introduce him to the player in question. 

“Forgive me for intruding. I am Bob Sheppard, the public address announcer here at Yankee Stadium.” As the years wore on this, the self-introdfuction became less and less necessary, of course. “Could you pronounce your name for me so I make no mistake during your introduction?” Then the ritual would ensue: “It’s Soka-witz.” “Sock…a…witz.” “Right.” “As in punching some wits?” The meticulousness extended to the subtler variables. He asked Rick Burleson of the Red Sox if it was “Burl-son” or “Burl-a-son.” That’s how much it mattered to him. 
The personal trips would end in the ’90s or early ’00s (an emissary would ask) but only because Bob eventually had to have an artificial hip implanted. Even then, he was vigorous and with inspiring endurance. Bob missed a game a few years back and the Yankees announced he had had a minor household injury. In fact, the artificial hip had dislodged. Bob’s son Chris found this out when his father called him from the ground floor of his house, having walked – with a loose artificial hip – downstairs from his bedroom. 
The diligence and the work ethic paid off. As outlined below, players like Tony Gwynn consider hearing Sheppard introducing them at Yankee Stadium to be a thrill something close to winning a batting championship. And, after today’s game at CitiField, Ron Darling of the Mets told me that during the two career starts he made in the Bronx, he actually paused while warming up in the Oakland bullpen. “I had to hear Bob Sheppard say may name. I just had to.”

2 Comments

What a lovely, lovely man.
It says a great deal about Mr. Sheppard’s character that he took the time to go directly to the source in order to learn how to correctly pronounce the more problematic names of ballplayers.
Wow. As someone with both a somewhat difficult/uncommon first name AND last name, I applaud Mr. Sheppard’s thoroughness and thoughtfulness. For some, maybe it wouldn’t be a big deal; but for others of us, Mr. Sheppard’s kindness would mean everything.

We have a local announcer in our area (volunteer dad, nothing professional though he sure could if he wanted!) who *always* asked for the phonetic translation on a roster of names for both teams. I always appreciated that since, like the first commenter, our family has a kinda tricky last name.

My Sheppard was all class for taking the time to do that.

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