No. 99, Bob Sheppard. Well, not quite yet. The Yankees' longtime public-address announcer sounded in great voice yesterday, eight days shy of what he virtually admitted will make him one year short of the century mark.
"You are putting me on the spot,'' he said from his home in Baldwin. "I'll tell you what. I'm not yet 100, but I'm moving toward it. If God is good, I'll make it.''
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He did confirm that his birthday is Oct. 20, not the 12th, as has been reported.
Sheppard, originally diagnosed with a bronchial infection, has not announced a game since 2007. But his voice sounded sharp and strong and his mood was upbeat. And his sense of humor was intact.
"I'm fair, not great,'' he said. "But I'm not dead; I'm alive. I'm not healthy, ready to go to football, baseball or basketball, but I'm alive, day by day.''
For years, there was conjecture that Sheppard didn't want to reveal his age for fear that George Steinbrenner would think he was getting too old and would fire him. Sheppard laughed at the suggestion.
"He never questioned how old I was,'' Sheppard said. "He knew I was there every day for 57 years or so. It was a long time.'' He announced his first Yankees lineup April 17, 1951.
Sheppard has kept in touch with the Yankees by watching the games on television. "I was delighted,'' he said of the three-game sweep of the Twins. "They have the nucleus of a very fine team for the next three or four years.''
He has not visited the new Yankee Stadium, saying: "I have not seen it, not been there. I have no intention of going this year or next year, but I'm interested in seeing it sometime.''
Does Sheppard expect to announce any more games? "I'm thinking about that,'' he said. "I couldn't say never never, never, never. Who knows? The man who they hired now [Paul Olden] is filling in adequately, I think. I've heard no criticism of Paul Olden from anyone. He's not Bob Sheppard, but he's himself. With the new stadium, maybe they needed or wanted a different approach. He's been very kind. He calls me once a week to chat.''
Sheppard said his two-year contract expires in February. That will make him a free agent. "For whom, the Mets?'' he said, laughing. "The Mets have not called yet. If they did, I would say no thank you.''
Sheppard is thrilled that Derek Jeter has honored him by having a tape of Sheppard's voice announcing each at-bat. "It has been one of the greatest compliments I have received in my career of announcing," Sheppard said. "The fact that he wanted my voice every time he came to bat is a credit to his good judgment and my humility.''