Sheppard Passes Away

“Most men go to work, but I go to a game. How many men would love to do that?” – Bob Sheppard

Sometimes, it’s difficult to realize how fortunate you truly are to work in baseball.  And then you look at a simple statement like the one legendary Yankees PA voice Bob Sheppard made, and it gives things some perspective…often, much-needed perspective. 

Sheppard passed away yesterday in his home.  He was 99. 

The Yankees have been kind enough to allow me to cover a handful of games every season for the past four years.  I remember being fortunate enough to meet and have a brief conversation with Sheppard in 2007, and I walked away thinking what an amazing man he was at the time.  To be his age and to be as sharp as he was and — as Joe Torre said — have the kind of energy he had, it was truly remarkable.

(Yankees PR)It is with deep sadness that the New York Yankees announce the passing of longtime public address announcer Bob Sheppard – “The Voice of Yankee Stadium.” Sheppard passed away this morning at his home in Baldwin, N.Y., with his wife, Mary, by his side. He was 99 years old.

A wake will be held on Tuesday and Wednesday at the Fullerton Funeral Home located at 769 Merrick Road, Baldwin, Long Island, from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. each day. The funeral will be held on Thursday at 10:45 a.m. at St. Christopher’s Church at 11 Gale Avenue in Baldwin.

Born in Ridgewood, Queens, Sheppard began his tenure as Yankees public address announcer on April 17, 1951—Opening Day of Joe DiMaggio’s final season and Mickey Mantle’s Major League debut. Among the approximately 4,500 baseball games he worked over his tenure with the Yankees were an incredible 121 consecutive postseason contests (1951-2006), including 62 games in 22 World Series.

“Most men go to work, but I go to a game,” Sheppard said. “How many men would love to do that?”

Sheppard’s incredible career behind the microphone started when he volunteered his services for a charity football game in Freeport, Long Island, in the late 1940s. An executive from the Brooklyn Dodgers football team of the All-America Conference was at the game. He liked Sheppard’s style (“clear, concise and correct”) and hired him. The football Dodgers folded after only one season at Ebbets Field (1948), but one of their opponents—the New York football Yankees—heard Sheppard’s booming voice and offered him their PA job at Yankee Stadium. Baseball’s Yankees then heard him and offered him the same role for them for the 1950 season. Though his teaching schedule could not accommodate the 77-game home schedule for baseball (plus World Series games) and he turned down the offer for 1950, he reconsidered the next year.

In addition to his baseball duties, Sheppard was the public address voice for the football Giants for 50 seasons—from their move to Yankee Stadium in 1956 until his retirement after the 2005 season. Sheppard also served the New York Titans of the American Football League at the Polo Grounds, the New York Stars of the World Football League at Downing Stadium, the New York Cosmos (soccer) and St. John’s University basketball and football. Sheppard also handled PA duties for five Army-Navy football games in Philadelphia.

Some of the events he listed as the most memorable of his incredible career were: Don Larsen’s perfect game in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series on October 8, 1956; Roger Maris’ 61st home run on October 1, 1961; Reggie Jackson’s three home runs in Game 6 of the World Series on October 18, 1977; and the Giants-Colts overtime NFL Championship Game on December 28, 1958.

In one of the game’s truly memorable moments, Sheppard introduced President George W. Bush before Game 3 of the 2001 World Series (on October 30) as Mr. Bush became the first sitting President to throw out a ceremonial first pitch at Yankee Stadium.

Sheppard attended St. John’s College, which eventually became St. John’s University. Always a talented athlete, he received a full athletic scholarship to the school, playing quarterback on the football team all four years. He later enrolled at Columbia University, where he received his master’s degree in speech and worked his way up from teacher-in-training to substitute teacher to permanent teacher to department chairman. In order to supplement his teaching salary, Sheppard played semiprofessional football on Sundays in Long Island with the Valley Stream Red Riders and the Hempstead Monitors, earning $25 a game.

In 1998, Sheppard was presented with the prestigious William J. Slocum “Long and Meritorious Service” Award by the New York chapter of the BBWAA as well as the “Pride of the Yankees” award by the ballclub. Yankee Stadium’s media dining room was named “Sheppard’s Place” prior to the 2009 season to commemorate his legacy.

On May 7, 2000, a plaque was dedicated to Sheppard in Monument Park of the original Yankee Stadium to commemorate his 50th anniversary season.

The native New Yorker was elected to the St. John’s University Sports Hall of Fame, the Long Island Sports Hall of Fame and the New York Sports Hall of Fame. He was awarded honorary doctorates from St. John’s University (Pedagogy) and Fordham University (Rhetoric), and in 2007, received St. John’s’ Medal of Honor, the highest award that the university can confer on a graduate.

Sheppard also made cameo appearances in numerous motion pictures and television shows, including 61*, It’s My Turn, It Could Happen to You, Anger Management, Seinfeld and Mad About You.

Sheppard announced his final game at Yankee Stadium on September 5, 2007, a 3-2 Yankees victory over the Kansas City Royals.

At the request of Derek Jeter, a recording of Sheppard announcing his name has been played prior to each of his at-bats since Sheppard’s absence in 2007.

On September 21, 2008, Sheppard provided a valedictory in the bottom of the seventh inning of the final game at the original Yankee Stadium. Unable to say goodbye in person as he continued to recover from illness that had kept him away from the Stadium since the final weeks of the 2007 season, Sheppard gave his tribute through a taped segment played on the video board. He recited, “Farewell, old Yankee Stadium, farewell / What a wonderful story you can tell / DiMaggio, Mantle, Gehrig and Ruth / A baseball cathedral in truth.”

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