Sheppard, Yankees' `Voice of God' for More Than 4,400 Games, Dies at 99
Bob Sheppard, the Yankee Stadium announcer known as the “Voice of God,” has died. He was 99.
Sheppard died yesterday morning at his home in Baldwin, New York, the Yankees said in an e-mailed statement.
Sheppard’s perfect diction and intonations made their debut at the Yankees’ season opener of April 17, 1951 --and were heard at every opening-day baseball game until April 11, 2006, when he dislocated his artificial hip. His resonant introductions of players from Joe DiMaggio to Derek Jeter echoed within the Bronx ballpark and carried well beyond to the elevated subway platforms.
A bronchial infection led to a lengthy hospital stay at the end of the 2007 regular season and the Yankees said he never returned to announce another game. By then, Sheppard’s voice had reverberated in New York City’s most-famous stadium for more than half a century and in more than 4,400 games.
“Your attention, please, ladies and gentlemen,” Sheppard would demand, whether asking fans to rise for the national anthem or to note: “Now batting for the Yankees, the shortstop, No. 2, Derek Jeter, No. 2.”
A recording of Sheppard’s introduction of Jeter now plays at the player’s request and has since Sheppard’s lengthy absence in 2007, the Yankees said yesterday.
Fans and players alike paid heed to Sheppard’s deep voice.
“When you think of Yankee Stadium, he’s the first thing that comes to mind,” Jeter, the Yankee captain and shortstop, said in April 2006. “It’s not right playing here unless he’s the one that’s announcing.”
Nor were Sheppard’s admirers limited to the Yankees. “Just hearing your name over the public-address system gives you a shot of adrenaline,” said ex-Met Mike Piazza, who swatted a home run at Yankee Stadium in 2000 with Sheppard’s voice still ringing in his ears.
Sheppard was “a fine man whose voice set the gold standard for America’s sports announcers,” George Steinbrenner, principal owner of the Yankees, said in a statement. “His death leaves a lasting silence.”
Sheppard was a New York high school speech teacher when he was hired as a public-address announcer for pro football games at Yankee Stadium in the late 1940s. He shifted to Yankee baseball after being assured it wouldn’t interfere with his teaching career.
“The first rule of being a good public-address announcer is to have a steady job on the outside,” he said.
Robert Leo Sheppard, who grew up in the New York borough of Queens, consistently refused to disclose his age; New York voter records listed his date of birth as Oct. 20, 1910.
In addition to the Yankees, Sheppard was the public- address announcer for the New York Giants football team from 1956 until he retired from that job after the 2005 season.
He played varsity football and baseball for St. John’s University, where he earned a degree in speech in 1932. He also received a master’s degree in speech from Columbia University.
Sheppard was the chairman of the speech department of John Adams High School in Queens before becoming a professor of speech at St John’s.
He took equal pride in his longevity as an announcer and in adhering to a “clear, concise, correct” style behind the microphone.
“You name it, I did it, and without emotion,” Sheppard said, “which is amazing when you think about the public- address announcers in the world today. They are screamers.”
Sheppard arrived early at games to check how ballplayers he didn’t know pronounced their names, a professional courtesy that he had also extended to students in his high school classes.
Aside from DiMaggio, whose name Sheppard said he enjoyed pronouncing, his first opening day lineup included Mickey Mantle, another player with a name the announcer said rolled enjoyably off his tongue because of its rhythm and alliteration.
As for other players, Sheppard said he found pleasure in introducing multisyllabic names like Alfonso Soriano rather than names like, for instance, Steve Sax.
World Series Perfection
One of Sheppard’s most exciting moments as a broadcaster occurred on Oct. 8, 1956. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, Don Larsen was on the verge of pitching the first perfect game in World Series history.
And then, Sheppard recalled, “I had to introduce a pinch hitter, Dale Mitchell, for the Brooklyn Dodgers.”
There ensued a few more tense minutes and then Mitchell was called out on strikes. As pandemonium broke out in the stadium, Sheppard said he exhaled, quietly, at last.