Writer, official scorer Shannon passes away

Writer, official scorer Shannon passes away

Another thick layer of loss and sorrow has hit the New York baseball writing community. Bill Shannon, a resolute reporter, a historian of baseball and so much more, a zealous member of the New York Chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America and a man who always was quite "official" in his responsibilities as an official scorer, died Tuesday morning in a fire at his mother's home in West Caldwell, N.J.

His passing leaves gaping holes in several areas in the New York market, not the least of which involved tracking the lives and deaths of the high profile among the New York sports citizenry. Shannon believed most folks warranted longer obituaries than newspapers had column inches to devote. And from time to time, he would gently admonish -- read: scold -- a newspaper editor for overlooking the death of a person of import or giving the deceased short shrift.

Shannon's death comes after the passing of New York Post and Daily News columnist Vic Ziegel, longtime baseball writer and author Maury Allen and Mike Celizic, an author and columnist for The Record of Hackensack, N.J.

Shannon was a Jack Webb "just the facts, ma'am" obit writer who wasn't always comfortable with flowery characterizations of the deceased. And now sadly, three months after his 69th birthday, Shannon is the subject of an obituary that can't cover his life in a few fat paragraphs.

His death came at about 9 a.m. ET. He was unable to escape the smoke and flames that consumed the home of his 92-year-old mother, who did escape with assistance from neighbors. West Caldwell fire chief Charlie Holden told the Associated Press that the three-alarm fire was called in just before 9 o'clock and brought under control within an hour.

The AP, which employed Shannon on a part-time basis for years, reported that a neighbor had placed a ladder up to the second floor to reach him, but the neighbor later said Shannon was unable to break the window and disappeared into thick smoke. Shannon had an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan for years, but had moved back to live with his mother after she developed problems about five years ago.

For all he did professionally -- and there was much -- he become a tad anonymous and borderline invisible in recent years when his primary responsibilities had included official scoring and his tireless work with the New York Sports Hall of Fame. If he were recognized at all, it was while working when a television camera focused on him in the press box at Citi Field or Yankee Stadium after he made a scoring decision the announcers thought to be wrong. But Shannon knew the scoring rules as well as Billy Martin, Tony La Russa, Joe Torre or any umpire knew the rulebook.

Shannon took pride in the reputation that he helped create -- that New York had "tough" official scorers.

"He was a hard scorer, but hard is fair," said Jack O'Connell, the New York-based secretary-treasurer of the BBWAA. "No homers here."

Those who disagreed with Shannon's decision to charge a fielder with an error often heard these words from OS Shannon: "This is the big leagues, sir. That play is supposed to be made." He was objective to the Nth degree, but he did allow his absolute disdain for the sacrifice-fly rule to show through. Shannon was certain hitters didn't deserve "free outs" for sacrifice flies and made his opposition apparent by his tone when he properly credited one.

The death of Red Foley of the Daily News in 2008 left him as the senior scorer in New York, although that is merely a description as opposed to a title. Phyllis Merhige, the senior vice-president of club relations for Major League Baseball, called him "the daddy of official scorers in New York" and admired his diligence. Shannon produced the schedule for the three scorers and their occasional replacements who worked all 162 regular-season games played in New York. And, in a way, he scored the work of the others. He had mother hen tendencies.

Newsday Mets beat reporter and chairman of the New York chapter of the BBWAA David Lennon described Shannon as a "keeper of the game, not just a scorekeeper," and noted his service to the chapter. It was Shannon who two years ago unearthed the names of past chairmen of the New York and Brooklyn chapters, going back to 1909. He was a stickler for accuracy and didn't submit his lists until they had been double-checked. He did that research and so much more on a voluntary basis.

He did as much to keep newspapers in business as anyone who didn't advertise. He purchased and carried papers -- the Daily News, Newsday, the New York Times, The Post, The Record and any other he could put his hands on. The Times, he said, did more with obituaries. But he had scolded "the paper of record" at times.

Shannon was a character, different from most of the denizens of the press box. He stuck with sideburns longer than most, and had no use for computers, cellullar phones or other electronic gadgets of the day. When he scored, all that was in front of him on the press box desktop was his pens, scoring sheets, cups and cups of Pepsi and a deli sandwich he had purchased near his mother's home. His Pepsi consumption cost him his teeth, but he could get through a thick sandwich without trouble.

The book of scoring rules remained in his satchel, no need to reference it. Shannon might not have known the numbers and letters and paragraphs of the scoring rules, but he knew the rules and spirit of the rules. Jordan Sprechman is an attorney. He was one of Shannon's friends and business associates. They co-authored one book "This Date in New York Sports" and were collaborating on "Who's Who in New York Sports." Sprechman also is one of New York's official scorers.

"Bill didn't need to have the rulebook out. He knew what rule applied," he said. "Sure enough, you'd look it up and Bill had it right."

Shannon was considered a press box authority. He kept track of pitches before pitching coaches did and timed innings so when a particularly long one occured -- see Steve Trachsel, Jim McAndrew and all Yankees-Red Sox games -- he knew precisely how much time had passed. He delivered the pitching lines in unique fashion that prompted plebes to wonder.

He would speak the line -- say: seven innings, six hits, three runs, two earned, three walks, two strikeouts, one home run and one hit batsman. Then he'd repeat it at a quicker pace, pausing with one entry remaining. Then with great emphasis on the number, he would say "and one hit batsman." It became a ritual

Shannon made it his business to know all who had been credentialed to cover.

"Our business can be a little cliquish," Tony DiComo, the beat reporter for Mets.com, said. "But Bill knew my name right after I started, and he always treated me well. He made me feel like I belonged."

Shannon was a smoker, but went without once the practice was banned in press boxes. Seventh-inning stretches, extended by the playing of "God Bless America," served his habit well.

He became an official scorer for the American League in 1979, and for the National League one year later. A baseball fan since his childhood -- he was a Yankees fan living in a Giants household -- Shannon wanted to and did score the first games played at Citi Field and the current Yankee Stadium. "I don't usually use my [scheduling] to personal advantage," he said last year. "But I didn't think there was anything improper with doing it." He was proud of the double distinction.

Although he loved newspapers, he worked for only two -- The Record of Hackensack, N.J., in the 1960's when it was the Bergen Record, and the short-lived News of the World in the 1970's. He maintained his Bergen County contacts. His accounts of various sports events, however, were seen throughout the country -- though rarely in the New York market -- because he was a trusted and often-assigned stringer for United Press International and the Associated Press. His reports were accurate, thorough, streamlined and quickly filed. Wire services demanded that combination.

He was quick to point out that one of his late "write-through" stories from Shea Stadium was published in a New York daily, Newsday, when the writer assigned missed deadline.

Shannon attended Columbia University, and until last year, covered the school's football and basketball games. He was head of public relations for Madison Square Garden from 1965-73 and served as the press box announcer for Titans and Jets home games for most of 50 years, missing merely three games because of military commitments.

He also served as an assistant on the United States Tennis Association press staff. He wrote "Official Scoring in the Big Leagues," published in 2006, authored "The Ballparks, A History of Major League Baseball Stadiums" and edited The Official Encyclopedia of Tennis of the U.S. Tennis Association. He also also founded the New York Sports Museum & Hall of Fame, which planned to build a sports history museum."

What will happen to his many projects is unknown. Shannon wasn't spread too thin, but his passion for sports did spread him to all corners of the New York market.

That passion was quite evident on each birthday. He and his father attended a Yankees game -- home or away -- each July 28 until his father's death in 1989. He wasn't the official scorer for those games, but he kept score. He kept track of so much, not all of it related to the game he was watching. Shannon could -- and did -- multitask before the term was created. Sprechman noted Shannon was the last man to cover and score the same game. That once was commonplace, but the demands of coverage increased dramatically, and newspapers frowned on their reporters covering events they might affect.

Shannon had no problem with the dual responsibilities. He was fair -- if "hard" and accurate.

He might have announced it this way: "One game, two jobs, many words, quotes from each side and no errors."

Today his faster, repeat would require a change: "One game, two jobs, many words, quotes from each side (pause) and no errors."

Pause . . .and one sad day.

Funeral services will be Monday at 11 a.m. ET at Dancy Funeral Home in Caldwell, N.J. In lieu of flowers, the family would appreciate donations sent to:

St. Barnabas Burn Foundation
94 Old Short Hills Road, Livingston, N.J. 07039
http://www.njburncenter.com/foundation.html

Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.