It took him a long time to see the amusement in the story, let alone the fact that with one accident, he had channeled the growing frustration among Yankee fans. I think in the end Bob Sheppard was just a little proud of one of his very few mistakes behind the microphone at Yankee Stadium.
It was, I’m pretty sure, 1982. It was the year the wheels fell off at Yankee Stadium. George Steinbrenner went through three pitchers, sent veteran third baseman Butch Hobson to Columbus with the instructions “learn how to be a catcher,” inspired the Rich Gossage (“take it upstairs! To the fat man!” tirade) and engaged in public disputes with two of his best players, Tommy John and Dave Winfield. A team that had won the first two games of the preceding World Series had collapsed into a quagmire of futility.
One of the players Steinbrenner had to have, no matter the cost (in this case, a future closer named Bill Caudill, and a long-term top middle reliever, Gene Nelson) was pitcher Shane Rawley of Seattle. Not long after arriving in New York, Rawley, having pitched poorly in relief, was inserted into the rotation. More arson followed – only earlier in the game. Finally, one day, not long after a Yankee player had asked me why people actually paid money to get into Yankee Stadium when he would’ve happily paid money to get out, the masochists in the seats heard this:
“And pitching for the Yankees…”
“If you call that….a pitcher.”
Clicking sound of microphone being switched off.
Bob was mortified. In point of fact, he had given unintentional voice to the frustration of Yankee fans. It was as if “The Voice of God,” as Reggie Jackson had termed him but a few years before, had been reading everybody’s mind.
Long afterwards, Derek Jeter would pay tribute to the voice of Yankee Stadium by suggesting to management – with no offense to his successor Paul Olden – that a recording of Sheppard’s introduction of him be played whenever Jeter came to bat in the new Yankee Stadium. It is a tribute that will be carried, it is reported today, into Tuesday’s All-Star Game. And then, presumably, Derek Jeter, and all the other Yankees and Yankees fans and baseball fans like you and I, will have to let him go, with deep affection, and even deeper gratitude.