As we prepare to watch the All-Star Game today, we remember one of Major League Baseball's greatest stars never to wield a bat – New York Yankees announcer Bob Sheppard, who died two years ago on July 11, 2010. Written by David Caldwell and originally published July 2011 on Obit-Mag.com.
When Derek Jeter achieved the milestone of 3,000 career hits, with a crashing home run, he had been introduced to the fans by the voice of a dead man. In fact, a dead man calls Jeter’s name over the loudspeakers at Yankee Stadium before every one of his at-bats. Bob Sheppard, the Yankees’ public-address announcer for 56 years, died a year ago and had not worked a game for nearly three years before that, but the taped introduction is part of the team’s lore. Jeter wants it that way.
Jeter, the longtime Yankees’ shortstop, is only 37, a young man everywhere but on a baseball diamond, where he is slower and more susceptible to injury. He does not plan on quitting the game soon, but the end of his career is closing in fast. When Jeter stops playing baseball, Sheppard, in a sense, will stop calling games, too. Off into the sunset they will go, together.
Just how Sheppard became Jeter’s personal announcer after his death is one of those sweet-as-Cracker-Jack stories. The two men were not friends, or even that close. When Sheppard died at the age of 99, Jeter missed his funeral, on an off-day for the team, claiming not to know when it was.
“I don’t necessarily think you have to go to a funeral to honor someone,” Jeter said at a news conference the day after Sheppard’s funeral.
In this May 7, 2000 file photo, New York Yankees public address announcer Bob Sheppard acknowledges the cheers of the fans at Yankee Stadium in New York. Friends and family remember longtime Yankees public address announcer Bob Sheppard, who died Sunday, at his funeral on Long Island, Thursday, July 15, 2010. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun, File)
Sheppard died July 11, 2010, two days before the much more public death of George Steinbrenner, the Yankees’ irascible owner. Jeter spoke at a brief memorial service for Sheppard and Steinbrenner at Yankee Stadium, calling them “both shining stars in the Yankees universe.” The Yankees wore a patch on their jerseys that included a silhouette of Sheppard’s microphone.
Jeter, who was born in New Jersey but grew up in Michigan as a Yankees’ fan, did have respect for Sheppard professionally, because of his iconic stature at a baseball cathedral. When Sheppard’s health began to slip, Jeter requested that Sheppard record his introduction – “Now batting for the Yankees, No. 2, Derek Jeter, No. 2” – and that it be played at games even when Sheppard was absent.
Reggie Jackson, the famous Yankees slugger, once said Sheppard had “the voice of God,” and it stuck because Sheppard’s announcements were painstakingly precise. For years, Sheppard was a speech teacher when he was not working Yankees’ games, and he announced players’ names with elegance, right down to enunciating the tilde for Latin players.
“I never took a lesson in public address,” Sheppard said in a 2009 interview with CBS News. “I created my own style, followed it for over 50 years, and, forgive me, never had a critical word from the Yankees or from the press. I can’t remember any writer finding fault with my style, which was always clear, concise, correct. The three C’s: clear, concise, correct.”
Sheppard was good at his job and did it a long time. His first game as an announcer at Yankee Stadium was on April 17, 1951, the New York debut of a 19-year-old outfielder named Mickey Mantle (whose salary that year, by the way, was $7,500). Mantle had been dead for 12 years when Sheppard announced his last game, on Sept. 5, 2007.
Jeter has helped the Yankees win five World Series and has earned more than $200 million in his 17-year career – landing TV ads and, oh, starlets, too. He had a deep appreciation for Sheppard, who made errors as seldom as has Jeter. (Jeter refers to his teammate, Jorge Posada as “Sado” because Sheppard mispronounced his last name as “Posado” early in his career.)
Sheppard had earned a bronze plaque in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium in 2000, near those honoring such legendary players as Mantle, Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio. Between the time Sheppard first fell ill and he officially retired in 2009, the Yankees used a stand-in, Jim Hall, whose voice was almost a dead ringer for Sheppard’s.
When Newsday, the Long Island newspaper, asked Sheppard in 2009 about Jeter’s decision to use a recording of his voice, Sheppard said, “It has been one of the greatest compliments I have received in my career of announcing. The fact that he wanted my voice every time he came to bat is a credit to his good judgment and my humility.”
Sheppard had hoped to return to his booth above the field in 2008, the last at original Yankee Stadium, but missed the entire season, including the All-Star Game played there in July and the final regular-season game on Sept. 21, in which a recording of Sheppard announcing the starting lineups of the Yankees’ game against Baltimore was piped over the loudspeakers.
By that point, even though Hall could have probably imitated him well enough to fool the crowd, Sheppard’s prerecorded announcement for Jeter before each of his at-bats had become a staple. The Yankees moved across 161st Street to a gleaming new stadium in 2009, and hired a new announcer even though Sheppard was in the final year of his contract.
The new guy, Paul Olden, still has the job. He is a Los Angeles native and sounds nothing like Sheppard, although he follows Sheppard’s “three C’s” and is far more restrained than most announcers in other ballparks, stadiums and arenas. But Sheppard’s introduction of Jeter stands out, which most Yankee fans love – and which rankles most fans who do not like the Yankees.
Jeter is handsome, wealthy and successful by almost any measure. He is a certain Hall of Famer whose jersey number will be retired and who will have a plaque near Sheppard’s in Monument Park some day. Yankee-haters have grumbled that Jeter uses Sheppard’s introduction as a way to separate himself from other players, including his own teammates.
Not so, the ballplayer said. Sheppard’s introduction is Jeter's link to the Yankees' past. Recently, Jeter strained his right calf muscle, which forced him out of the lineup for two weeks and made him look even more vulnerable to age. He did a two-game rehabilitation stint at the Yankees’ farm team in Trenton, N.J. There, too, Sheppard’s recording introduced him.
Sheppard said in the interview with CBS News of the introduction, “It makes me feel as if my voice is still there, that much. At least it’s a memory that’s carried out until he retires, and the two of us will go off into the sunlight on horseback. John Wayne, Bob Sheppard, Derek Jeter. On a horse. A white horse, OK? Got a white horse for me?” And he laughed.
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