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.”