This is not intended as an insurance advertisement, just a freeze from ESPN’s coverage of the Home Run Derby that struck me as bordering on art: the shadowed silhouettes of fans in the right field bleachers at Angel Stadium during David Ortiz’s ups.
2010 HOME RUN DERBY (C) MLB/ESPN
MORE ON BOB SHEPPARD AND PUBLIC ADDRESS ANNOUNCERS:
A commenter on the last post quotes a second version of the only major gaffe committed in the 57 seasons the late Mr. Sheppard announced Yankee games at Yankee and Shea Stadiums. In the version I recounted, a faulty microphone caused his editorial comments about starter Shane Rawley (“if you call that a pitcher”) to echo around the ballpark. In the version the commenter cut-and-pasted, Bob recalled it as Rawley entering a 1982 game in relief and his first pitch getting whacked for an extra base hit, leading to a different comment (“some relief pitching”) going out over an open mic.
In point of fact, I heard both versions, from Bob. Since Rawley, otherwise effective with the Mariners and particularly the 1987 Phillies, spent his entire two-and-a-half years in the Bronx pitching like the Human Torch, either version could be correct (maybe even both). My point in telling the story was that after initially being terribly embarrassed by the gaffe, Bob came to embrace it and enjoy it as much as the rest of us cherish some of our on-air bloopers (my favorite of my own can’t be repeated or reprinted – I’ll spare you).
This reminds me that one of the first clues as to the identity of Bob’s forgotten predecessor was a open-mic blooper so hilarious that it was recorded by all of New York’s many newspapers in the ’40s, and has since passed into baseball lore – but attributed almost exclusively to another PA man. A few fans sitting front-row in fair territory had draped their overcoats over the then low fence in the outfield. The next day, the papers all reported that the Yankee Stadium announcer had inspired a roar of laughter from the crowd by intoning “Would the fans sitting in right field please remove their clothes…”
Remarkably, not one of the eight or nine beat reporters – who used to fight each other for details in a way we can’t comprehend today – said who the PA announcer was! This was the first hint that his anonymity was being protected for some reason. Later evidence proved the reason was obvious: it was Yankees’ Public Relations man Arthur “Red” Patterson, and the writers certainly weren’t going to tick off their official conduit to the club by publicly humiliating him by name.
A year or two later, Tex Rickards, the Dodger PA announcer whose style would be the exact opposite of Sheppard’s (earthy, gravelly, sitting not in the press box but next to the Dodger dugout, often wearing a team jacket reading “Dodger Announcer”), made the exact same mistake. Rickards’ version of “will the fans sittin’ in the outfield please remove dere clothes” has gone into history. Patterson’s is an almost forgotten footnote – except he did it first.
Incidentally, the doubling of duties was not unique to New York. A remarkable recording of a Yankees-Tigers game in Detroit from 1934 has Tigers’ radio play-by-play man Ty Tyson telling his listeners that Luke Hamlin was coming into pitching, then, with an audible click, he turns on the PA microphone and makes the same announcement to the crowd.
Imagine Vin Scully doubling as the Dodgers’ voice, on air, and in Dodger Stadium!
One last note about Mr. Sheppard. Visiting with my friend Gary Cohen after the Mets’ game yesterday (and congratulations to Gary, Ron Darling, and Keith Hernandez for placing second to Vin in GQ Magazine’s ranking of the best TV booths in the game), he told me that Ralph Kiner had mentioned during the broadcast that when Ralph joined the Mets’ crew in 1962 he sought Sheppard’s advice on enunciation and clarity – which gives you a sense of the esteem with which he was held, relatively early in his remarkable career.
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.