Yankees announcer Sheppard dies

Updated: July 12, 2010, 5:46 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

NEW YORK -- Bob Sheppard, whose elegant introductions of stars from Joe DiMaggio to Derek Jeter at Yankee Stadium for more than a half century earned him the nickname "The Voice of God," died Sunday. He was 99.

The revered public address announcer died at his Long Island home in Baldwin with his wife, Mary, at his side, the Yankees said.

Sheppard started with the Yankees in 1951 and he last worked at Yankee Stadium late in the 2007 season, when he became ill with a bronchial infection. He recorded a greeting to fans that was played at the original ballpark's final game on Sept. 21, 2008, and his audio recording still is used to introduce Jeter before each at-bat at home by the Yankees captain.

Jeter said Sunday he'll continue to use Sheppard's voice as his introduction for each at-bat.

"Players changed year in and year out, he was the one constant," Jeter said. "Every time you heard it, you got chills."

In a special tribute to Sheppard, Major League Baseball will have Sheppard's recorded voice introduce Jeter during Tuesday's All-Star Game.

When the team moved into new Yankee Stadium last year, it honored him by naming the media dining room after him.

In a prepared statement, Yankees principal owner George M. Steinbrenner called Sheppard "a good friend and fine man whose voice set the gold standard for America's sports announcers.

Jeter Players changed year in and year out; he was the one constant.

-- Derek Jeter

"For over a half century, fans were thrilled to hear his unforgettable voice and players were thrilled to hear his majestic enunciation of their names," Steinbrenner said. "Bob Sheppard was a great member of the Yankees family and his death leaves a lasting silence. My thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Mary, and their family."

While Sheppard didn't like to give his age, a former Yankees official confirmed in 2006 that Sheppard was born Oct. 20, 1910.

The Yankees' lineup for Sheppard's first game on April 17, 1951, included DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Johnny Mize, Yogi Berra, and Phil Rizzuto. And the opponents that day, the Boston Red Sox, were led by Ted Williams.

Sheppard became as much as a fixture in the Bronx ballpark as the familiar white stadium facade or Monument Park, tucked behind the blue outfield wall.

On May 7, 2000, after 50 years and two weeks on the job, the team honored him with "Bob Sheppard Day" and put a plaque in his honor in Monument Park. Fans gave Sheppard a standing ovation, and legendary news anchor Walter Cronkite read the inscription. Berra, Reggie Jackson and Don Larsen were among those who stood on the field during the ceremonies.

"The voice of Yankee Stadium," read the plaque. "For half a century, he has welcomed generations of fans with his trademark greeting, 'Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Yankee Stadium."

He also served as the stadium voice of the NFL's New York Giants from 1956-05, and for men's basketball and football at St. John's University, where he taught, for Army football and the Cosmos soccer team. He also announced for the American Football League's New York Titans at the Polo Grounds and the World Football League's New York Stars at Downing Stadium.

But baseball is what made him famous. Babe Ruth gave Yankee Stadium its nickname, but Sheppard gave the ballpark its sound.

He announced at 62 World Series games and a pair of All-Star Games, and introduced more than 70 Hall of Famers across his career. It was one of them, Jackson, who dubbed Sheppard "The Voice of God."

"A voice that you hear in your dreams, in your sleep," Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said Sunday. "Today's a sad day."

Sheppard's player introductions remained consistent throughout the decades, with Sheppard imbuing each name and number with a gravitas more in keeping with a coronation than a ballpark outing: "No. 7. Mickey Mantle. No. 7." Or even "No. 58. Dooley Womack. No. 58."

"He had the most distinctive voice I've ever heard and he announced my name in my first game," said Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox, who played 220 games with the Yankees in 1968 and 1969. "It was special when he made the lineup announcement."

Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte said his most lasting memory of Sheppard was hearing him announce Jeter -- and then others impersonating it.

"When you think of all the great players he has announced, when you think of the old stadium, there is no doubt you think about him and what he had done there for the organization," Pettitte said. "It was cool to hear him announce your name, that's for sure."

Unlike the shrill shills of later generations, Sheppard conducted himself with an understated and dignified delivery. He employed perfect diction, befitting a man who considered his real job teaching speech at St. John's. He graduated from the school in 1932 and later worked there for more than 25 years.

[+] EnlargeSheppard
AP Photo/Bill KostrounBob Sheppard was honored by the Yankees on May 7, 2000, during his 50th season as the team's stadium announcer.

"A P.A. announcer is not a cheerleader, or a circus barker, or a hometown screecher," the epitome of the old-school style once said. "He's a reporter."

Sheppard's favorite Yankee Stadium moment was Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series, but his dulcet tones defined New York sports for the second half of the 20th century and beyond. He also was the stadium announcer for the "greatest football game ever played," the Baltimore Colts' 23-17 sudden-death victory over the Giants in 1958.

He was on hand when Roger Maris hit home run No. 61, when Jackson hit three homers in a single World Series game, when the Giants finally reached the Super Bowl. He never missed an opening day at Yankee Stadium from 1951 until a hip injury sidelined him in 2006.

Former player and current Yankees manager Joe Girardi considered Sheppard someone who should be revered with all the greats in Yankees history. The Seattle Mariners had a moment of silence in honor of him before Sunday's series finale against the Yankees.

"When you think of Bob Sheppard you think of all the tradition with the Yankees. You think about Ruth and Gehrig and Yogi and Joe D and Mantle, and I think you mention Bob Sheppard," Girardi said. "That's how important he was to this franchise.

"First time I ever heard him was 1996," Girardi added. "First time I ever walked out in Yankee Stadium and you realize you've hit the big lights when Bob Sheppard announces your name."

Sheppard, who followed the Giants across the Hudson River when they moved to New Jersey, received a ring after the team won its first Super Bowl in the 1986 season; it complemented his Yankees' World Series jewelry. His football calls covered the Giants from Frank Gifford through Tiki Barber.

Giants team president and CEO John Mara called Sheppard "the most distinguished and dignified voice in all of professional sports.

"We are very proud of the fact that he was the voice of the Giants for so many years," Mara said. "Bob was a true gentleman and the consummate professional. There will never be another one like him."

While few might have recognized Sheppard in person, his voice was unmistakable. Once, while ordering a Scotch and soda at a bar, Sheppard watched as heads turned his way. He often read at Mass, and was subsequently greeted by parishioners noting he sounded exactly like the announcer at Yankee Stadium.

"I am," he would reply.

At his Yankees debut, the first name Sheppard announced was DiMaggio -- Dom DiMaggio, the center fielder for the Red Sox. The Yankees' lineup included five Hall of Famers: Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Berra, Mize and Rizzuto; the Sox had three more, Williams, Bobby Doerr and Lou Boudreau.

His favorite names to announce, in order, have been Mantle, Shigetoshi Hasegawa, Salome Barojas, Jose Valdivielso and Alvaro Espinoza. He preferred the names of Latin players.

"Anglo-Saxon names are not very euphonious," he said. "What can I do with Steve Sax? What can I do with Mickey Klutts?"

Jorge Posada got a nickname out of the first time Sheppard announced his name. Without a chance to check with Posada on the pronunciation, Sheppard announced his entry into the game with an "O" at the end of his last name. Jeter caught on and gave Posada the nickname "Sado."

"His voice, there was nobody better," Posada said. "People looked forward to coming to Yankee Stadium to hear that voice. It's a sad day."

All-Star closer Mariano Rivera would try and block out as many distractions as possible when entering games in the ninth inning, but he never could ignore Sheppard's voice.

"You always hear that voice, even if you don't want to," Rivera said.

But it wasn't the players who made Sheppard's work special.

"Mr. Sheppard could read Eminem lyrics and make them sound like the Magna Carta," Clybe Haberman wrote in The New York Times five years ago.

While he didn't like to reveal his age, it could be pinpointed because he was the quarterback of St. John's football team from 1928-31. The left-hander was a first baseman for the university in the springtime.

Sheppard began his announcing career at an exhibition football game, which led to a job with the long defunct Brooklyn Dodgers of the All-American Conference in 1947. When they folded a year later, he was hired by the football New York Yankees, who played at Yankee Stadium.

Management with the baseball Yankees liked his approach, and Sheppard was on board for Opening Day in 1951.

Even the players treated Sheppard with a degree of reverence. Mantle once said that every time Sheppard introduced him, he felt goose bumps. "Mickey, so did I," Sheppard responded quietly.

Sheppard, while proud of his work with the Yankees, also was known for his speaking as a church lector. He taught priests how to give sermons.

"I electrified the seminary by saying seven minutes is long enough on a Sunday morning. Seven minutes. But I don't think they listened to me," he told The Associated Press in 2006. "The best-known speech in American history is the Gettysburg Address, and it's about four minutes long. Isn't that something?"

He said one of his most challenging tasks as a teacher was when Jackson needed help with his Hall of Fame induction speech in 1993. Jackson planned to speak for 40 minutes, and Sheppard implored him to cut.

"Too much you," Jackson said slowly, mimicking Sheppard's voice.

When Sheppard missed the 1997 division series, ending his streak of 121 consecutive postseason games worked at Yankee Stadium, he was replaced by Jim Hall, his longtime sub. Paul Olden took over when the Yankees moved to the new ballpark in 2009.

In addition to his wife, Sheppard is survived by sons Paul and Christopher, daughters Barbara and Mary, four grandchildren and at least nine great-grandchildren.

A wake will be held Tuesday and Wednesday, with the funeral Thursday in Baldwin.

Information from ESPNNewYork.com's Andrew Marchand and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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