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Remembering Bob Sheppard

I have but one personal Bob Sheppard story, and it’s not really mine, but it’s a nice one to think about now that he’s gone. One of my best friends used to work in a high position with the Yankees. He was married during his time there. Working for the Yankees comes with a few perks, and here was his: at the reception after the ceremony, when it was time for the newly married bride and groom to make their first entrance as man and wife, there was a silence as the band quieted. A very familiar voice then echoed from the PA system. "Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please: presenting Mr. and Mrs. John and Mary Smith." Enter the bride and groom, introduced by the Voice of God. How nice, and apparently how typical, of Mr. Sheppard to take the time to make that recording.

The first time I truly appreciated Bob Sheppard was on a trip to the departed and unlamented Metrodome to see the Twins around 1983. "Now batting," their announcer nearly shouted, "Kent… Hrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrbek!" That overwrought introduction seemed appropriate for that place and those fans, who maybe needed a little artificially-added adrenaline to help them. Sheppard’s way seemed so much more respectful of the game and the fans at Yankee Stadium who, we flatter ourselves to think (and might be right) know why they’re there and what they’re seeing and don’t require any added fanfare or foofaraw.

This reminds me of the way Red Barber, later a Yankees broadcaster, called Bobby Thomson’s "Shot heard ‘round the world" in 1951. When that game is recalled, one always hears the famous call by Russ Hodges, the sound of a broadcaster coming unglued: "The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!" etcetera, etcetera. In contrast, Barber said, "Branca pumps, delivers… a curve, swung on and belted, deep shot to left field…it is… a home run! And the New York Giants win the National League pennant and the Polo Grounds goes wild!" Even more efficient was the late Ernie Harwell, calling the game on WPIX. "It’s gone!" No violent paroxysms for the Hall of Fame broadcasters, just the business of telling the story without histrionics. Sheppard was like them.

I like to think of the times that he had to step out of the role of public address announcer, when the fans didn’t quite live up to their high self-estimation, occasions such as the game in 1978 when fans showered the field with Reggie bars and children ran on the field to pick them up, or other occasions when the crowd grew rowdy and he would remind them of how the Yankees stood for "sportsmanship." When Sheppard said "sportsmanship," it sounded like it meant something akin to "honor."

In my trips to old Yankee Stadium, I would sometimes see Sheppard in the press dining room, eating alone. I never introduced myself, feeling that it would be wrong to intrude. I have greatly regretted my shyness for a number of years, never more so than now.