Bob Sheppard, at 99; sonorous voice of the New York Yankees for 55 years

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / July 12, 2010

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One of baseball’s most noted voices fell silent yesterday when Bob Sheppard, longtime Yankee Stadium public announcer, died at his home in Baldwin, N.Y. Mr. Sheppard died with his wife, Mary, by his side, the team said. He was 99.

“Bob Sheppard was a great member of the Yankees family, and his death leaves a lasting silence,’’ George Steinbrenner, Yankees owner, said in a statement.

The team’s public address announcer from 1951 to 2006, Mr. Sheppard became as much a part of the team’s lore as the players he introduced to crowds. His elegant, meticulous pronunciations were widely imitated, garnering Mr. Sheppard the nickname “the voice of God.’’

Mr. Sheppard also announced New York Giants football games at Yankee Stadium and Giants Stadium from 1956 to 2005. He worked approximately 4,500 baseball games, including 121 postseason games and 62 games in 22 World Series.

“He was the one constant at Yankee Stadium. He was part of the experience,’’ Derek Jeter, Yankees team captain, said yesterday. “His voice always gave you chills.’’

Jeter has a recording of Mr. Sheppard’s voice announce him at the new Yankee Stadium and said he would continue to do that.

“It was a cool thing when he introduced you for the first time,’’ Red Sox outfielder Mike Cameron said. “It really let you know you were in the big leagues.’’

Mr. Sheppard introduced President George W. Bush before Game 3 of the 2001 World Series when Bush, in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

Mr. Sheppard’s first game with the Yankees was April 17, 1951, against the Red Sox. The lineup that day included eight future Hall of Famers — Yogi Berra, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Johnny Mize, and Phil Rizzuto of the Yankees along with Bobby Doerr, Lou Boudreau, and Ted Williams of the Red Sox.

Despite his age, Mr. Sheppard was a regular visitor to the dugout before home games late in his tenure and often would seek out the radio announcer of visiting teams to check on how to pronounce the names of those players with whom he was not familiar.

He became friendly with many players during his time with the Yankees, including Mantle, Jeter, and Reggie Jackson.

Mr. Sheppard was born in the Richmond Hill section of Queens on Oct. 12, 1910. He graduated from St. John’s University in 1932 and earned a master’s degree from Columbia in 1933.

A fine collegiate athlete, Mr. Sheppard earned seven letters at St. John’s in baseball and football.

A speech teacher with the New York City school system and at St. John’s, Mr. Sheppard, served in the Navy during World War II. He then resumed his teaching career, becoming a tenured professor at St. John’s.

“I would rather be known as a good teacher of speech rather than as a public address announcer. It’s more important to me in my life,’’ Mr. Sheppard said in an interview in 2000. “People don’t know of me as a teacher. They think, ‘Oh that’s the guy who works at Yankee Stadium 81 days a year.’ That’s shortsighted.’’

A semipro quarterback after graduating from college, Mr. Sheppard announced a charity football game in Long Island in 1948. That led to a part-time job as the announcer for the Brooklyn Dodgers of the All-America Football Conference. That in turn led to his position with the Yankees.

Styles and decades changed, but Mr. Sheppard maintained the same measured approach to his job. A player’s first appearance at the plate was always announced the same way. “Number 7 . . . Mickey Mantle . . . Center field . . . Number 7.’’

Mr. Sheppard wrote poetry and on several occasions read his compositions at Yankee Stadium.

He was one of the few Yankee employees never to feel the wrath of Steinbrenner, a capricious owner. “All he ever said to me was that I was doing a good job and to keep it up,’’ Mr. Sheppard said several years ago.

The Yankees honored Mr. Sheppard with a plaque in Monument Park in 2000, and one of the microphones he used is on display in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Mr. Sheppard was given the William J. Slocum Award for long and meritorious service by the New York chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America in 1998. He also threw out the first pitch before Game 2 of the World Series that year.

His voice was used in five movies and numerous television shows, including “Seinfeld.’’

Sheppard also announced professional soccer games, Army football games at West Point, and the annual Army-Navy football game.

A devout Catholic, Mr. Sheppard served as the lector for his church.

In addition to his wife, Mary, Mr. Sheppard leaves two sons, Paul and Christopher; two daughters, Barbara and Mary; four grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.

A funeral Mass will be said Thursday at 10:45 a.m. in St. Christopher’s Church in Baldwin.

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