When Bob Sheppard said "Your attention please, ladies and gentlemen," people paid attention, and they did so for 56 years. His dignified intonations at Yankees games were so distinctively clear, correct and concise that Reggie Jackson once called him, "the voice of God."
Sheppard, who became one of the major figures in Yankees history even though he never came to bat or threw a pitch, died this morning at his home in Baldwin. He was 99.
His son Christopher, who was with him, as was Sheppard's wife Mary, said his father died peacefully at 6:28 a.m. Sheppard had spent most of his time at home in recent years, after complications from an infection prevented him from appearing at Yankees games after 2007.
So he never did get to read the lineups in his unmistakable fashion at the new Yankee Stadium. But his voice is played on a recording every time Derek Jeter comes to the plate, at Jeter's request. That is an enduring tribute to timelessness of the public address announcer who began his career on April 17, 1951-Joe DiMaggio's final Opening Day and Mickey Mantle's first.
Sheppard also was the voice of the football Giants for 50 years, moving with them from Yankee Stadium to the Meadowlands. He did public address announcing for basketball games at St. John's University, his alma mater and later his employer through many years as a speech instructor.
Yankee games, however, were the source of his greatest fame. The team enshrined him with a plaque in Monument Park on May 7, 2000. His son Christopher said later, "He used to say, `I'm out there with Yogi Berra and the popes, that's not bad.' "
He worked 22 World Series, three perfect games and six no-hitters. Even in the age of intensified noise and myriad sound effects at ballparks, he never varied from the style he employed the day he first announced Dom DiMaggio, Boston's leadoff batter in that 1951 game (Sheppard years later admitted that he almost said "Vince," another of the DiMaggio brothers).
Even though he was unable to attend the closing of the old Yankee Stadium, he was part of the ceremony at the final game. He read a videotaped verse that he wrote: "Farewell, old Yankee Stadium, farewell/What a wonderful story you can tell / DiMaggio, Mantle, Gehrig and Ruth / A baseball cathedral in truth."
Generations of ballplayers said it was a distinction and a rite of passage to hear their names announced by Sheppard. Former manager Buck Showalter once said that coach Brian Butterfield broke into tears when he heard Sheppard say his name. Jackson, who does one of the better Sheppard imitations, is widely quoted as calling him "the voice of God," although Sheppard himself once said he heard that Rusty Staub had used the phrase earlier.
"Clear, concise, correct," he always said when he was asked to describe his approach. In a 1999 Newsday interview, he said, "I'm not a cheerleader; I don't think a public address announcer should be one. I'm not a circus barker, who strings out the announcement of a home team player. That curdles my spirit when I hear it. But then again, that's their style."
Sheppard became a public address announcer by accident, and by just trying to help. The former quarterback had attended St. John's on a football scholarship and was a speech major. He studied for his master's at Columbia, taught in public schools, served in the Navy in World War II and made $25 a game as a semipro quarterback.
When he heard the New York Yankees football team was playing an exhibition against the Chicago Rockets at Freeport Stadium in the late 1940s, Sheppard volunteered to announce it. Branch Rickey, who owned the Brooklyn Dodgers football team, was at the game and offered Sheppard a job.
The Dodgers folded - "Branch Rickey took a bath on that," Sheppard said in 1996 - but the football Yankees hired him to be their public address announcer. "Then the baseball people heard me doing football and they asked me to do baseball," he said.
He became not only a fixture at Yankee Stadium, but part of American culture. His voice appeared in movies and TV series, including "61*" "Seinfeld," "Mad About You," "Anger Management" and "It Could Happen to You."
He and Mary (Sheppard's first wife died when Chris was a youngster) were longtime lectors at St. Christopher's Roman Catholic Church in Baldwin, reading scripture at mass. On Sundays during baseball season, Sheppard also was the lector during mass attended by employees, players, executives and media people at the Stadium.
Sheppard is survived by his wife, four children, four grandchildren and nine great-grandchilren. Funeral arrangements have not been finalized but tentative plans, his son said, are for viewing at Fullerton Funeral Home, Baldwin, on Tuesday and Wednesday and mass at St. Christopher's on Thursday.