Bob Sheppard, Voice of the Yankees
A few weeks ago, I travelled to Yankee Stadium with fellow MUD.com writer Early. One of the striking memories I have was the unmistakeable recording of Derek Jeter’s introduction by the legendary voice of the Yankees, Bob Sheppard.
Bob Sheppard has been the public address announcer for the New York Yankees of Major League Baseball since 1951, and was also the public address announcer for the New York Giants of the National Football League from 1956 to 2006. Since joining the Yankees, he has announced over 4,500 Major League Baseball games, and has worked 22 World Series.
A former professor of speech, Sheppard is known for his distinctive announcing style, which has become a part of Yankee Stadium’s lore. He begins by saying, “Good afternoon (or Good evening)… ladies and gentlemen… and welcome… to Yankee Stadium.”
He nearly always presents the performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “O, Canada,” by saying, “Ladies and gentlemen… would you please rise… And now… to honor America… please join… (name of performer)… as he (or she, or they) sing(s)… our national anthem”… (and) O, Canada.”
Hall of Famer and former Yankee Reggie Jackson once said his words sound like “the voice of God” as they reverberate through the ballpark.
Sheppard used to sit in the booth, reading from hard-covered books between pitches. In his tweedy blazers, looking like the college professor he once was, Sheppard would approach visiting players before the game and ask how they preferred their name to be pronounced. He writes out the pronunciation of the names in a way he will remember to say them in public, especially the unconventional ones, which are his favorites. This diligence led him to employ the Spanish tilde while introducing the White Sox icon Minnie Meen-YO-so.
Two names of Mariners players that struck Sheppard as a wonderful exercise in phonics are those of reliever Shigetoshi Hasegawa and outfielder Raul Ibanez. Those on Sheppard’s all-time list include DiMaggio (“His name was symbolic of the early Yankees,” Sheppard says) and Mantle (“Mickey Mantle has a nice ring to it because the two ‘Ms’ make it alliterative and the ‘l’ — Mickey Mantle — sounds very good”). Much like myself, Sheppard loves to enunciate Latin-sounding names like Alvaro Espinoza, a Yankees shortstop in the late 1980s and early 1990s
“I’m not a hero worshipper,” said Sheppard, a devout Catholic who also serves as a lector in church. “In all the years I’ve been here, I could probably count the number of times I’ve been in the clubhouse on my fingers — less than 10 in 50 years. Rarely do I go in there, rarely do I have anything to say to the team — or the team to me. If I see them in the dugout or around the field, we exchange hellos, but I do not get to know the players, and they don’t get to know me.”
And adding his mystique, Sheppard refuses to publicly reveal his age. In fact, he once ended an interview after being questioned about his age twice. But he is the very same Robert Leo Sheppard who was a left-handed quarterback and first baseman for St. John’s College of Brooklyn from 1928 through 1932.
During the 1985 season, the Yankees were in a tight race for the American League Eastern Division title with the Toronto Blue Jays. Before the first game of a key four-game series with the Jays that September, Sheppard introduced opera singer Robert Merrill, who often sang the National Anthem at Yankee games in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, who proceeded to sing “O, Canada” out of respect to the visiting Jays. Many Yankee fans booed the Canadian National Anthem. Before the next game, Sheppard reminded fans of how Canada was America’s ally in two world wars, a partner in NATO, and had helped get some of the American hostages out of Iran, and that their anthem should be respected and not booed. His reprimand was not heeded, and the fans booed the anthem again.
Sheppard is also a poet of note, and read a poem he wrote in memory of Yankee catcher Thurman Munson before the team’s first game after Munson’s death, on August 3, 1979. Another poem served as a tribute to Roger Maris’ 61st home run in 1961. He has also read aloud, so that fans far away from the ceremony can hear, the inscriptions on the plaques the Yankees dedicate for their Monument Park, one of which now honors him.
Sheppard lives with his 2nd wife, Mary. They met, at church, after Sheppard’s first wife died of a brain tumor, leaving him with four children. He invited Mary Hoffman to the beach, where they swam and played pitch-and-putt golf, and, when he was ready, he proposed.
Due to a bronchial infection, Sheppard has had to take a leave of absence from the booth since late 2007. Mary Sheppard made sure her husband gained weight after he had what has been described as dramatic weight loss due to bronchitis last fall. His weight has climbed to 140 ½ pounds as of Friday, Sheppard said, but he and his doctor do not feel he has the strength for even a cameo performance as the Yankees’ public-address announcer for the Stadium’s final game Sunday night.
“The Yankees have been very gracious,” Sheppard said as he was awaiting a visit from club officials who would tape a message from him for this weekend. The Yankees offered a limousine and a seat in George M. Steinbrenner’s box, and maybe a few words if he felt up to it.
He did not, however.
“I don’t have my best stuff,” Sheppard said, sounding like a pitcher whose fastball has lost some zip. But he still has his wits, to say nothing of the elocution that has graced Yankee Stadium since April 17, 1951, opening day.
As for the Yankees’ opener next April, this man for many seasons says he just needs to gain a few more pounds, and he just might be there.