Home > Culture, Sports > Elegance in Simplicity- the Death of Bob Sheppard

Elegance in Simplicity- the Death of Bob Sheppard

(Photo by Bill Kostroun/Associated Press)

 

It doesn’t sound like too difficult a job being a stadium announcer.  You talk into the public address microphone, proclaim someone is coming up to the plate, say their number, their name and the number once more.   But when you do it for half a century, the venue is Yankee Stadium, and you pull off this simple task with such grace and style- you are Bob Sheppard.

“Mr. Sheppard,” as most ballplayers called him, died Sunday at the age of 99.   He started this job April 17, 1951, announcing, among others, the presence of a rookie taking his place in Centerfield for the first time, a young kid from Oklahoma named Mickey Mantle.  The game against the Red Sox that day included both Dimaggio brothers, Dom for Boston and Joe for the Yankees.  And a sharp-eyed left fielder, the greatest pure hitter of all time, Ted Williams.

There was nothing modern, showy or overtly spectacular in the way Bob Sheppard did his job.  He had a deep voice that delivered words in a deliberate cadence with perfect articulation and diction.

More importantly, it mattered not whether you were in the Yankee pinstripes or in the uniform of the visiting team, when it was your turn to bat and Mr. Sheppard announced your name, it was your moment in the big leagues- the confirmation that the voice you heard as a kid decades before was now validating your sweat and toil in all those creaky, dusty minor league ballparks and confirming your presence in “the Show.”   Mickey Mantle said he always got goose bumps when he heard Sheppard announce him.  And when Mantle told him this one day, Sheppard is reported to have responded back, “Mickey, so did I.”

It was Reggie Jackson who anointed Bob Sheppard the “Voice of God.”   But it was God, in fact, who often heard the voice of Bob Sheppard.  From a wonderful article by Ronald Blum of the Associated Press:

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.

—-

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?”

Elegance in simplicity.  It’s one of my favorite phrases and reminders in life.  Bob Sheppard epitomizes the notion. 

The AP’s Blum sums it up nicely, and simply:

 Babe Ruth gave Yankee Stadium its nickname, but Sheppard gave the ballpark its voice.

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