The priceless intonations of Bob Sheppard at Yankee Stadium all those years actually did have a price. He earned $15 a game in 1951. "Seventeen-fifty for doubleheaders,'' the Rev. Steven Camp said during Sheppard's funeral yesterday.
What made his style priceless, all the speakers said, was that he painstakingly enunciated every name because he believed in every person's dignity. And that belief shaped his multifaceted life, regardless of whether he was behind a microphone.
Sheppard was recalled for his faith and warmth as well as his renowned ability to pronounce the likes of Chico Carrasquel and Hideki Matsui (two of his favorite baseball names). He was honored as "a gentleman and a gentle man,'' as Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said during Sheppard's one last time in his beloved St. Christopher's Roman Catholic Church in Baldwin, where he had attended daily Mass and read scriptures from the pulpit.
Several speakers went to that same pulpit Thursday - in front of his widow, Mary, his four children and about 800 others - and talked about the man whose elocution inspired the nickname "the voice of God.''
"He is so much more than that special voice,'' Cashman said. "Bob will not be known only as a great teacher of speech, but he will best be remembered as a great teacher of life.''
Camp, the pastor at St. Christopher's, mentioned the first Palm Sunday on which he and his friend together read the long gospel account of Jesus' passion. Sheppard read the part of narrator, and Camp read the parts spoken by Christ. "As he begins to read, I'm back in 1964 with him announcing 'Mick-ey Man-tle.' And now it's my turn to read and I'm totally lost,'' he recalled, adding that Sheppard tried to get him back on track with a stage whisper.
Sheppard got him off track again yesterday. Camp came close to choking up as he said, "Why is Bob Sheppard so respected and loved? Not because he was the voice of the Yankees and Giants. He was respected and loved because he was a good and decent man.''
It was a vibrant Mass, with 14 priests and four deacons on the altar, Irish tenor Ronan Tynan singing "Ave Maria'' and "Panis Angelicus,'' and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani sitting in one of the front pews. Many Yankees employees (no players) arrived by bus. After it was over, people stood on Merrick Road and gave Sheppard, inside the hearse, one last round of applause.
Giants president John Mara referred to the 50 years Sheppard spent as public address announcer for his team, recalling with relish the time Sheppard was asked by Phil Rizzuto on TV during a rain delay to name his favorite Stadium memory. He responded, "The day [Pat] Summerall kicked that field goal in the snow to beat Cleveland.''
Former basketball coach Lou Carnesecca spoke on behalf of St. John's, Sheppard's alma mater and his employer for his many years as a speech professor. Carnesecca said he wished he had had the opportunity to study under Sheppard so his words Thursday would have been more polished. Pointing to the coffin, he said, "To you, Bob, we salute you and we love you.''
Paul Sheppard, Bob's older son, called his father "a tough act to follow,'' describing his distinguished athletic career - seven letters in college - and his humanity. He marveled at the former sports star's "total lack of profanity,'' remembering the time Bob tried to fix a flat tire, only to have the jack collapse on his wrist. The son said, "Bloodied, he exclaimed, 'Darn!' ''
He drew more chuckles when he told of how he and his three siblings never knew much about Milton Berle because in the 1950s, the comedian was on opposite Bishop Fulton Sheen, and Sheen was required viewing in their house. More poignant was the recollection of the promise Sheppard made to attend daily Mass when his first wife, Margaret, became gravely ill more than 50 years ago. He kept that vow as long as he was physically able.
"I have a very strong feeling,'' the son said, "that our Lord has already recruited Dad. And if you and I are fortunate enough someday to reach the heavenly gates, we'll probably hear, 'Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to heaven.' ''