Bill Shannon Has Died

No matter what the game was, how long it dragged on or how quickly it passed, how unpleasant the weather or how perfect the setting, it was always better if I got to say hi to Bill Shannon.

He was already a veteran of the press boxes at Shea Stadium and Yankee Stadium and Madison Square Garden long before I got into this business in 1979. He knew virtually everything that had ever happened in baseball and probably just a little bit more about everything that had happened in New York sports reporting.

The topics occupied him, mystified him, energized him, endlessly. Off-and-on for several years, we individually dabbled in trying to unearth such mysteries as who had preceded the legendary Public Address Announcer Bob Sheppard at Yankee Stadium before Sheppard got the job in 1951. Off the top of his head Bill went through the identities, resumes, and secret lives of Sheppard’s counterparts at Ebbets Field and The Polo Grounds, and details of the days when the Yankees refused to install a PA and stuck to having men walk around the field with megaphones, and then after rolling out all this information he said, with no sense of irony, “but let me look a few places.”

We were still engaged in what had become a near-decade-long search for the etymology of the official scoring system by which the shortstop is numbered “6” and the third baseman “5” (as in “6 to 3 if you’re scoring at home”). I had found an 1890’s Giants program with “how to score” instructions that indicated it had been the other way round. “Ah, yes,” Bill bellowed, in an accent I knew from my childhood to be authentic New York City, “At some point it was. What we need to do is find out when it changed.” He then launched into a story he’d been told by a veteran writer with whom he had worked in the ’60s, that was from itself from a veteran writer from the teens, who had heard it from one of the combatants, of a near fist-fight between the two official scorers at an early World Series, one of whom adhered to the Midwest preference of “5” for the shortstop, while the other one came from the Northeast, where he had always been “6.”

These tales, these miniature trips through time, were at Bill’s fingertips. They were instantaneous and generously offered and if they could help you, they were so much more joyful for him.

Bill could do this about any topic. And any crumb of research that might enlighten him on something he didn’t know – or better yet, something he mistakenly thought he knew everything about – was like a gift of a gold nugget to him. He was publishing a brief (and impeccable) guide to official scoring (and he was the senior in the field at both New York ballparks, and I never heard anyone complain about one of his decisions) and asked me if I could help him with identifying the ones at some of the early World Series. I dug up the information fairly easily. He treated it as if I had written half the book for him.

It is impossible, it is personally physically painful, to write here that Bill Shannon died in a fire at his New Jersey home this morning, a fire from which his mother was rescued. He was 69 years old. He had worked for everybody: UPI, AP, the local papers, his own stringing service, Madison Square Garden, at least two soccer leagues, Who’s Who In Baseball.

Loss is a part of everything and everywhere, and I’m confident I did not see Bill once in 31 years outside of one of the Stadiums. But as I write this I literally cannot imagine walking into either of the New York press boxes next year knowing I will not see this lovely man again.

11 Comments

Oh, Keith. That’s terrible to hear. I am so sorry. Thank you for sharing your memories with us.

Keith, I’m at a loss for words when an untimely tragedy like this occurs. Please accept my condolences on the loss of your friend and colleague.
As has been the case (sadly) so many times over the last few months with others who have passed, your heartfelt tribute has made Mr. Shannon less of a stranger to me. It is my fervent wish that you are able to find a measure of solace in your many fond memories of a shared passion and of the good times spent with Mr. Shannon at the ballparks.
Finally, I wish Mr. Shannon’s mother godspeed.

Keith, I’m not very good with words, but I do want to send my sincere condolences to you and to Mr. Shannon’s family. This has been a difficult year, hasn’t it? You’ve lost so many people who were close to you, and I’ve lost several myself. When I heard about Bill Shannon, and read your beautiful tribute, I didn’t know what to say. So… I did something, instead. I hope you don’t mind if I share it with you. It isn’t much, but it’s all I have. This is what I did when your parents passed, and when two of my sisters lost their husbands within a few days of each other. I went for a walk, to try to collect my thoughts. Each time, I took a plastic bag with me, and picked up as much trash as I could find while I was out. I also took a camera, and brought back as much beauty as I could find. I believe you said this some years back: “I do know without fear of contradiction what the definition of life is and it is 12 words long. ‘Life is defined by how much you improve the lives of others.’ ” By that standard, I believe both you and Mr. Shannon (and so many of those we have lost over the last year) have led very successful lives, regardless of whatever else they may or may not have achieved. I hope to attain that level of success myself someday – not one marked by money, or fame, or fans… but one marked by people whose lives were improved, even if just for a moment. Sometimes, when things are at their darkest, I have to remind myself (if I’m able) that the dark moments provide a contrast that makes the happy ones that much more palpable, and more joyous. The highs are what sustain us through the lows… and I wanted to thank you for being one of the good things in my life. I picked up a bag full of trash tonight, in honor of Bill Shannon. And I took some photos, as well. You can see them here if you would like… http://s1089.photobucket.com/albums/i354/MiniRtist/Extras/Lake%20-%20Bill%20Shannon/
Thank you, Keith. For everything.

Keith, very nice touch, you captured Bill. While almost everyone connects Bill to MLB, I knew Bill since 1963 as a member of the NY Jets stats crew and Press Box PA announcer for the Jets at the Polo Grounds, Shea Stadium and the Meadowlands. He was a true professional who made it a point to give precise and measured reports to the media. He also made it a point to put together a solid post-game notes sheet for the media. It was like he was explaining a box score. He was as hard-working a person as any I dealt with. He might not be famous, for those working in baseball and football, he was a Hall of Famer and good guy. Frank Ramos, Jets PR director 1963-2002.

Bill sounds like a wonderfull baseball mind, and a great friend. I am sorry for your loss. But what a heartfelt tribute!I could feel his love of the game by simply reading it, and I never had the good fortune to meet him.

Keith…

you can write…and feel

never heard of the man but i have now…

thank you.

Frank Ramos mentions Bill’s work for the Jets, but his ties to that franchise goes back to the New York Titans, who played at the Polo Grounds. Sensing that the new pro franchise would need a statistics crew, persuaded the team to use the Columbia University people — including Bill Shannon, who was an undergrad. That began his long association with the team. We were students together and worked with each other in a variety of projects over the past 50 years, and he never lost sight of one principle that governed all that he did. It was in the summer of 1964 when he was head of PR for the International Soccer League, a summer league based at dreadful Randall’s Island in New York. The president of the league wanted Bill to pad attendance figures so the media would think it was more successful than it was. Bill’s response, which I heard, was “No. My reputation in this town is more important than this job.” He maintained that reputation until the day he died. From my blog at NorthJersey.com

http://blogs.northjersey.com/blogs/yourmoneysworth/bill_shannon_my_friend/

Keith – thanks for sharing some fantastic memories in your post. I’m still in shock at Bill’s tragic passing, I lost my mentor and one of my dearest friends. In my blog post I shared one of my favorite Bill Shannon stories, which happens to involve you….

http://announcerguydave.wordpress.com/

Bill was definition of a gentleman. There was nor is there any fifty people combined that have the deep understanding of baseball that Bill did. In covering the Yankees & Mets for 13 years (for STATS, Inc.) no one treated me better or taught me more. There was no better human being than Bill Shannon.

Bill was definition of a gentleman. There was nor is there any fifty people combined that have the deep understanding of baseball that Bill did. In covering the Yankees & Mets for 13 years (for STATS, Inc.) no one treated me better or taught me more. There was no better human being than Bill Shannon.

He was a great man.

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