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To honor Sheppard, PA system is kept silent for a night

New York Yankees announcer Paul Olden is shown

New York Yankees announcer Paul Olden is shown in the announcer's booth at Yankee Stadium. (July 16, 2010) Credit: Photo by Kevin P. Coughlin

When Yankees public-address announcer Paul Olden arrived at Yankee Stadium for the first time this season, he was surprised to find a picture of Bob Sheppard by his microphone.

Olden didn't know how that photo got there, and even after he asked around, it remains a mystery. But he knows this: That picture isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

"It's a reminder of Bob and what he stood for and the standards that he set," Olden said, "and it's a nightly reminder to reach those standards and maintain that high level."

That was an especially easy task Friday night. To honor Sheppard in the first home game since his death Sunday, the Yankees opted to keep the PA system silent throughout the game.

Olden announced that message to the crowd just before the first pitch, then vacated the booth. The image of the empty seat behind the microphone was shown on the large centerfield scoreboard, receiving a smattering of polite applause from the surprised crowd.

Olden was hired as Sheppard's replacement before last season, though publicly Sheppard still hoped to call a game at the new stadium. After the season, Sheppard said for the first time that he didn't expect to return and, Olden said, "gave me his blessing to be in this chair."

Having broadcast Yankees games on television during the mid-1990s, Olden already had met Sheppard many times over the years. He said he even enjoyed a handful of pregame dinners with Sheppard at the corner table that was always reserved for him in the dining room at the old Yankee Stadium.

Considering Sheppard's history in the job - he had been the Yankees' PA announcer since 1951 - Olden felt it was important to act as a conduit between Sheppard and the Yankees last season. So Olden said he made a point of reaching out to Sheppard by phone every two weeks.

In his first call last summer, Olden said he told him how thrilled he was to be sitting in his chair and doing this job. Then, utilizing his best Sheppard impersonation to deliver the line, Olden said Sheppard told him: "Oh, thank you very much. I don't know exactly who you are."

Olden laughed at the memory. He took no offense, clearly realizing that Sheppard had met and dined with hundreds - maybe thousands? - of media people during his nearly six decades at Yankee Stadium. So he kept calling Sheppard every two weeks but rarely talking about the job.

"I would say 98 percent had nothing to do with PA," he said. "He figured I knew what I was doing. We talked about his life, health updates, his philosophies on a lot of different things."

Olden learned of Sheppard's death by way of a radio update Sunday morning, and he said it felt as if he had been "socked in the stomach." He plans to honor Sheppard's memory with that photo on his desk and in the way he approaches the job. Said Olden, "As he always said, clear, concise and correct."

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