Robert Leo Sheppard, New York Yankees public-address announcer for more than half a century, died Sunday at age 99. But for those fortunate enough to attend Yankees games during his tenure, his voice, and his presence, will remain forever in memory.
It is probably impossible to count the ways that the Yankees have been set apart from the other 29 Major League franchises. But certainly, one of those ways was Bob Sheppard.
There was more to Sheppard's presentation than the rich, full timbre of his voice, although that was a large part of his unmistakable quality. There was an elegance to the diction, a precision to the pronunciation, that was unique. It was not show-biz, it was not glitz, it was not over the top. But it was extraordinarily good, and always pleasing to the ear -- not to mention the hearts and souls on hand at Yankee Stadium.
It was official without being officious. When Sheppard announced a number and a name, that announcement became an essential part of the package at the Stadium; on a level with strength in pitching, hitting and defense. It was a verbal work of art. It was something to be savored, to be recalled with fondness deep in the winter offseason.
Sheppard was, of course, a speech teacher, originally at the high school level and later at his alma mater, St. John's University. You could make the argument without forcing the issue that through the accuracy and care and quality of his work at Yankee Stadium, he became a speech teacher for much of North America.
In an era in which ballpark announcers too often serve merely as one more arbitrary way of driving up the decibel level, Bob Sheppard was an outpost of dignity. There were no tricks to his trade, nothing cutesy, no pandering, no attempts at snappy ballpark patter. There was just the consistent, precise elocution, the wonderful voice, the care and the craft involved; all of it adding to the Yankee experience.
And that is part of the symbiotic relationship that occurred between Sheppard and baseball's most successful franchise. A presence like his was perfect for the Yankees, their size, their history, their glory. The Yankees were good for Sheppard. But with his presence adding on a nightly basis to the auditory joys of a game at Yankee Stadium, the Yankees with Bob Sheppard at the public-address microphone became something even more.
Bob Sheppard respected his task, and in turn, earned the respect of untold millions. You can still hear his introduction of Derek Jeter -- the last name would be "Jeet-tah" -- on tape at the Stadium. It is the most sincere kind of tribute to him, although those tributes form an extremely large crowd.
Reggie Jackson famously referred to Sheppard as "the voice of God," and that is very close to the impression that was often created. Sheppard's vocal presence made him ultimately authoritative. The plaque honoring him in Monument Park speaks of the "divine reverence" with which he announced the names of baseball players, famous and otherwise. It would be a vast overstatement to apply this sort of verbiage to someone else's work. But with Bob Sheppard, it seems to be simply an accurate assessment.
"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen ... and welcome to Yankee Stadium."
That greeting, when made by Bob Sheppard, sounded like a blessing, a bestowing of gifts, a welcome to an occasion that would be something completely out of the ordinary in a magnificently positive way.
And with Bob Sheppard at the public-address microphone, the occasion was all of that.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less