The Post's Steve Serby chatted with the legendary voice of Yankee Stadium, who started as public-address announcer in 1951 but has missed the ballpark's final season due to illness.
Q: Your thoughts on the last game tonight at Yankee Stadium?
A: After having been there for more than 50 years, and missing this year because of illness, I shall miss the ending. I had planned being there if I could, but I don't have the stamina and I can't get up there and back (from Bellmore, L.I.), even though the Yankees New York Yankees have been so generous offering limousine service there and back and a seat in Steinbrenner's box. But physically, I wasn't up to it.
Q: What will your emotions be watching the finale on television?
A: Nostalgic. Really, really nostalgic. I started so long ago, and I never realized how many years I would spend up there. Never did I dream I would go on and on and on, like a river flowing constantly. Like the Energizer Bunny, I guess you could call it.
Q: Sum up what Yankee Stadium has meant to you.
A: It was like a second home. I was doubling, doing baseball for the Yankees and football for the Giants New York Giants , and I loved them both, and I enjoyed doing football as much as baseball, and baseball as much as football. And when I retired from the football Giants a year ago, it was on my own wishes. I just felt the trip over to Jersey and back to Long Island got to be a little bit heavy on me.
Q: What would you say Yankee Stadium means to baseball fans across America?
A: I liken it to a cathedral, like St. Patrick's Cathedral is to the Catholic people of New York. The Yankee Stadium - and I hope I'm not being un-Christian here - the Yankee Stadium is like a cathedral for baseball people. I think it has a certain aura of dignity . . . name . . . history and star appeal . . . the kind of appeal that comes only with Ruth, and Gehrig, and DiMaggio, and Mantle, and Rodriguez and Jeter and so on. This place, Yankee Stadium, truly has been blessed, not only with the great stars, but with the phenomenal record over the years. I don't know how many World Series I did in my years up there, but what other announcer would have the joy and pleasure of being there and seeing all those World Series games? It was a bonus, even though they paid me too.
Q: The first time you saw DiMaggio play?
A: It was in his final year (1951). He was ending his career, and Mantle was starting his career, and there I was, in my first year, announcing the greatest star in baseball at that time and a coming star in Mickey Mantle. The beginning, and the end. One man going out gracefully, and the other man coming in vivaciously (laughs).
Q: How would you describe the young Mantle?
A: Vigor. He was a bundle of muscle, and he was very quick. Even though they called Mickey Rivers "Mick The Quick," Mickey Mantle was Mick The Quick with muscle.
Q: Mantle's most memorable home run?
A: That I can't recall. There were too many.
A: He did not look like a player, he sometimes didn't swing like a player, he didn't catch like a player. But he was beautiful. He was beautiful.
Q: During your moments of quietude up in the booth, you wrote a poem devoted to American League pitchers.
A: "We quake in terror; when pitching to Berra; when Yogi comes up in the clutch."
Q: 61 in '61: the Mantle-Roger Maris home run duel?
A: I was thrilled by that. I was not rooting for Mickey, I was not rooting for Roger. Mickey was the hero of the crowd, and Maris a quiet kind of man who never sought any high praise or publicity, it seemed to me. I was glad when Roger hit his 61st home run (off Tracy Stallard) and broke the record.
Q: You wrote a poem (Roger Maris says his prayers) when that happened, too.
A: I wrote it five minutes after he hit his 61st. "They've me low, they've been pitching me tight; I've grown tense, nervous and pallid; But my prayers are full of joy tonight; thank you Lord, for Tracy Stallard."
Q: Don Larsen's Perfect Game?
A: Unexpected. Unprepared for it. Tension building from maybe inning five, six, up to the ending. When I had to introduce Dale Mitchell as a pinch hitter with two outs in the ninth inning - I think he had been a dangerous, pesky kind of hitter - I announced him with trepidation. When (home plate ump Babe Pinelli) said "Strike 3," I almost kissed the microphone! And then Yogi running and jumping into his arms.
Q: What would be the other great memories?
A: No. 2 could have been Reggie Jackson's three home runs in a row (Game 6, 1977 World Series). Bing, bing, bing. Remember that? No. 3 might have been (Chris) Chambliss' (1976 pennant-clinching) home run into the seats. The crowd just poured onto the field; that never happened before. The restraints were down and (Chambliss) could hardly get around the bases. It was formidable, really formidable.
Q: Any others?
A: The championship (1958) football game between the Giants and Colts was a great moment for me. One moment I remember vividly is Pat Summerall kicking a (49-yard) field goal against the Cleveland Browns in the snowstorm (with two minutes left to force a playoff game). All of the lines were obliterated so nobody knew how far it went.
Q: Derek Jeter?
A: I'll always be grateful for the request he made to have my name attached to introduce him every time he came to bat, even though I was not there the last year and my backup, Jim Hall, was there doing a fine job. I was amazed at that. Nobody has ever asked me that before.
Q: But you are "The Voice of God."
A: Oh, that's exaggeration. That's exaggeration. I'm sure it was not Reggie Jackson who said it, or coined it, but he seems to have taken control in getting the credit of introducing me as The Voice of God. Robert Merrill had a voice . . . but I'm just a second-rate crooner (chuckles).
Q: Describe your voice.
A: I wanted to be clear, concise, correct . . . the three Cs.
Q: Jeter the shortstop?
A: Solid . . . steady . . . dependable.
Q: Which players did you get to know personally?
A: I got to know Reggie better than any other player. He came to me for help in speech-making when he was going to give his acceptance speech in the Hall of Fame. My first question was, "How long did you think you were going to take?" He said, "Oh, about 45 minutes." I said, "Lesson No. 1, cut it down to a maximum of 20." He said, "I can't do that, I have so much to say." I said, "Well, then, the training is over, I'm leaving." I started to walk away, he said, "Wait a minute, wait a minute." He called me from California and said, "I have my script all ready." I said, "Read it to me." I timed it with my stopwatch . . . 22 minutes. I told him, "It's too long. 18 minutes maximum. Cut it down." He said, "You're killing me!" But he did it. He got very good.
Q: Don Mattingly?
A: Since I had always been a first baseman, and admired first basemen from the time I was five years old and had heroes who were first baseman, I thought he was one of the best I ever saw. Smooth . . . fluid . . . graceful.
Q: Casey Stengel?
A: I never got to know him personally, but I enjoyed watching Casey Stengel from my booth down into the dugout. He was a character . . . colorful. Casey Stengel was unusual. There was only one Casey.
A: I knew him slightly; he grew up in Richmond Hill in Queens, I grew up in Richmond Hill in Queens. I never met him when he was a boy. He went to Richmond Hill High, I went to St. Johns Prep in Brooklyn. One of the best shortstops we ever had.
Q: Scooter as an announcer?
A: (Chuckles). I loved his naturalness! He never struck me as being somebody who studied radio broadcasting up at Syracuse University.
Q: Billy Martin?
A: I liked Billy. I think there were two sides to him. The good side was the warm, friendly, easygoing, sober Billy Martin, and then there was the tempestuous, fiery, unbelievably angry man. Personally, I like the quiet type. I would prefer, if I owned a team, to have somebody like Joe Torre rather than Billy Martin; I would sleep better, I think (chuckles).
Q: Joe Torre?
A: He was very polite. He always called me Mr. Sheppard, and I think he played golf with my son Christopher in Hawaii sometime and Christopher always spoke highly of him.
Q: George Steinbrenner?
A: Do you know, after being there (more than) 50 years, I don't think we ever exchanged more than three or four lines over the time, and they were all cordial.
Q: The new Yankee Stadium?
A: Tell the people who read The Post I'm looking forward to next year.
Q: What would you tell Post readers about how you're doing physically?
A: I'm building up bit by bit by bit. I will be in fighting fettle!
The Man Will Be Absent, but His Voice Carries Richard Perry/The New York Times
When Yankee Stadium opened in 1951, Bob
Sheppard, who does not give his age, was the public-address announcer.
Published: September 19, 2008
Since early spring,
Sheppard has been well enough to take daily communion at the church a
few blocks from his home in
“Mary gave me communion every day,” he said, referring to the practice of administering the sacrament to the housebound.
“Mary is my angel,” Sheppard said Friday over the telephone, praising his wife for nursing him with food, vitamins, rest, advice, orders — and love.
Then he amended her rank.
“There are three
Archangels — Michael, Gabriel and Raphael,” he said, his voice as crisp
and clear as when he announced DiMaggio or Mantle or Jackson. “I have
elevated her to the first female
Mary Sheppard made sure her husband gained weight after he had what has been described as bronchitis last fall. His weight has climbed to 140 ½ pounds as of Friday, Sheppard said, but he and his doctor do not feel he has the strength for even a cameo performance as the Yankees’ public-address announcer for the Stadium’s final game Sunday night.
“The Yankees have been very gracious,” Sheppard said as he was awaiting a visit from club officials who would tape a message from him for this weekend. The Yankees offered a limousine and a seat in George M. Steinbrenner’s box, and maybe a few words if he felt up to it.
The Boss, who long
ago revived the glory of this franchise, is not coming up from
“I don’t have my best stuff,” Sheppard said, sounding like a pitcher whose fastball has lost some zip. But he still has his wits, to say nothing of the elocution that has graced Yankee Stadium since April 17, 1951, opening day.
How old is Sheppard?
He won’t say. But he is the very same Robert Leo Sheppard who was a
left-handed quarterback and first baseman for
Sheppard does not feel the need to be at Yankee Stadium on Sunday night. His colleague, Jim Hall, has been doing fine in the tiny booth.
Sheppard used to sit there, reading from hard-covered books between pitches. In his tweedy blazers, looking like the college professor he once was, Sheppard would approach visiting players before the game and ask how they preferred their name to be pronounced. This diligence led him to employ the Spanish tilde while introducing the White Sox icon Minnie Meen-YO-so.
When Sheppard began in 1951, he never expected that one day he would enunciate his ultimate favorite of a ballplayer name, Shigetoshi Hasegawa, a Japanese pitcher of the past decade.
Sheppard’s voice will be heard Sunday night, as it has been all season — as the recorded introduction for No. 2, the Yankee captain Derek Jeter, after Jeter requested this rare favor. The shortstop’s name — JEE-tah — has become a stylized flourish for Sheppard, who is otherwise a purist. Or maybe we all have exaggerated it, as we imitated it. At any rate, when they finally tear down the old place, that echo will bounce off the apartment buildings and bridges and hills of the Bronx and Manhattan — JEE-tah, JEE-tah, JEE-tah — forever.
Sheppard’s legacy is secure — half a century of Giants football games, including the classic 1958 championship loss to Baltimore, his voice and microphone ensconced in the Baseball Hall of Fame (even if the rules have not been bent to induct him along with hallowed broadcasters) and inclusion in a few movies and commercials over the years. (He does have a business side to him.)
Essentially, Sheppard is a simple man, as some poets and clerics and teachers can be termed simple. He never sought the company of the athletes. He had his own niche in life, and he still does, giving thanks that he can attend church each morning, go shopping, and in good weather walk the garden behind his home, always with Mary.
They are the most
handsome couple in the world. I used to see them walking the shoreline
Bob has not resumed serving as a lector at Mass, but Mary reads from the scripture many mornings — “the best female lector I have ever heard,” he said Friday, as if he were saying “No. 2, Derek JEE-tah.”
The Sheppards resisted the Yankees’ kind offer of a limousine for Sunday night, but they do go out.
“You know how old I am?” Sheppard asked. “My daughter, Mary, is celebrating her 50th year in the convent. Can you imagine? And she is still young and beautiful.”
Sister Mary has
arranged for a guest room for Bob and Mary Sheppard so they can rest
between the breakfast and the Mass at the Josephites’ convent on
Yankees announcer Bob Sheppard to retire
November 26, 2009 by NEIL BEST / email@example.com
Bob Sheppard refused to use the word "retired," even at age 99 and with no plans to return to work for the Yankees.
"But," he acknowledged yesterday, "I don’t intend at this moment to see myself back as a public address announcer at Yankee Stadium, feeling the way I do now."
Sheppard has not worked since late in the 2007 season and told Newsday last month that his contract expires in February, 2010.
He has inched closer and closer to acknowledging his unofficial retirement this year, but he went a step further than he has previously in an interview with MLB.com that was posted early yesterday, saying, "I have no plans of coming back."
Reached at his Baldwin home, Sheppard hedged, but only slightly, saying, "It wasn’t a resignation. It wasn’t quitting. It wasn’t throwing in the glove."
So he isn’t ruling out a future return? Sheppard laughed.
"Let me start from the bottom: I am now 99 years old," he said. "I don ’t think a man 99 years old goes back to work after two years of separation."
For decades, Sheppard adamantly has refused to discuss or confirm his age publicly. Why now? "It’s been in the paper," he said. "It’s been in Sports Illustrated. It’s no secret."
Sheppard said the Yankees have not contacted him about returning to work and noted they hired Paul Olden as a replacement. But he said it is a moot point because he has not been physically up to it for the past two years.
"I loved it while I did it, while I was able to do it, but I’m not sure I could do it now even if they said they wanted me to," he said.
"As far as I’m concerned the Yankees made a professional choice in getting Paul Olden to fill in. And he has been good to me. He gives me a call every couple of weeks or so just to touch base . . . Listening to the radio and listening to his voice in the background, the Yankees made a reasonable selection."
In his interview with MLB.com, Sheppard explained why even a single appearance in the p.a. booth for old times’ sake might be too much for him.
"It’s not just the two hours or three hours of baseball," he said. "It ’s the trip, the preparation, the trip home, and a long, long day. I think at my age, it's time to accept the fact that I had a great run. A great run. And I only made a few mistakes along the way."
Sheppard, who began with the Yankees in 1951 and also worked for decades for Giants and St. John’s, suffered from a bronchial infection in ‘07 that dropped his weight as low as 103 pounds – 62 below where he was as a quarterback for St. John’s 80 years ago.
"Now I’m up to 136 pounds," he said. "The doctor said, ‘You’re not going to be cured and cleared until you’re 145 pounds."
He suffered a further physical setback in March of this year when he fell down some steps and suffered bruises.
Sheppard said he was "thrilled" by the Yankees’ World Series victory, but he has not yet been to the new stadium, where a recording of his voice still introduces Derek Jeter's at-bats. He hopes to visit in 2010 if he is up to it physically.
"I’d like to go up and look at it," he said. "They tell me there is a Bob Sheppard dining room there." Would he like to check out the fare? "If the price is right," he said.
What's your opinion of Paul Olden's performance as the Yankees' PA man?
Having seen the passing of legendary New York Yankee figures George Steinbrenner and Bob Sheppard in the last 10 days, Paul Olden has had a chance to size up his own mortality.
"There'll be two distinctly different obituaries when that time comes," the 56-year-old said. "I've come to terms with that."
Lasorda's profane-laced answer can still be heard reverberating around the Dodger Stadium clubhouse after Dave Kingman's three home runs gave the Chicago Cubs a 10-7, 15-inning victory.
(In 2004, SI.com created a list of the top 10 list of the most embarrassing TV/Radio interview moments, and the Olden-Lasorda moment was No. 3, behind Joe Namath drunken interview with Suzy Kolber on ESPN in 2003, and Jim Rome's ESPN2 interview with Jim "If you call me Chris to my face one more time" Everett in 1994. Except, like many, SI.com had the date wrong, citing a June 4, 1976 date when Kingman, then with the Mets, also had three homers and eight RBI against the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium.)
Olden had been taking television productions classes while writing and
taking pictures for the school paper at
Olden's career had included a long run of doing the public address announcing on the NFL's Super Bowl, so his voice was recognizable in that capacity.
Since pulling up his
We caught up with Olden prior to the Yankees-Angels series that ends this afternoon for an update on how life was treating him these days:
Has it been a pretty emotional week for and the city of
A: Very emotional, very wild but very satisfying with the tributes we've seen. It's just been wonderful. And my role in the proceedings hasn't been that in-depth, but with the little I've had to do, there's been a good reaction to it.
With Mr. Steinbrenner's passing coming just days after Bob's, that was a big one-two punch. I had a relationship with Bob on the phone over the last year. I'd call him every couple of weeks, not necessarily to talk about public address things, but topics on life in general, families. Here's a man who would have been 100 this October and a couple of people told me he was really looking forward to making it to 100.
Q: Did Bob ever hope he was going to return to the PA position?
A: I think he realized it wasn't going to happen last year, so he didn't get his hopes up. He never got a chance to see this public address announcer's suite in the new Yankee Stadium. His wife, Mary, on Oldtimers' Day last Saturday, was recognized on the field and she came up to our booth and said, 'He'd love to have worked here.' They've named the press restaurant after him here.
Q: How did listening to Bob Sheppard shape your own delivery of the lineups and announcements? He seemed very precise and nimble but hardly calling attention to himself.
I'm just glad
management doesn't want a screamer or a carnival barker for their PA
person. For anyone growing up in
The first thing I will say before a game is 'Good evening ladies and gentlemen and welcome to Yankee Stadium,' and then try to billboard the name 'Yankee Stadium,' because to me, coming here to a new stadium, it's a special place, so you pause when you say the name and the crowd always gives a nice reaction. But those are really the only two things that you might do different. Otherwise we're on the same plane in terms of the desire not to be a showman or anything like that.
Q: Does the Yankees PA job pay enough to sustain as a full-time job?
A: The Yankees take very good care of me and in exchange, I do a lot of other things - spring training in Tampa, which is great since I worked there seven years (with the Devil Rays) and I know my way around there, fantasy camps, public appearances with players at a school. And I've been doing a magazine show on 'Yankees on Demand' for the local cable system that allows me to do a segment with my photography that I continue to shoot during a game, then we pick eight to 10 of them and discuss the photo, along with the game video from that moment.
Q: Do you miss the play-by-play jobs you've had and think you'll ever gravitate toward that again?
Not really. I'm happy with what I'm doing, and it seems the less I tried
to get jobs the more opportunities would come my way. After spending so
much time in my 20s and 30s trying to make contacts, work with agents,
make auditions tapes and interviews, I think of how Bob Carpenter has
got a job with the Washington Nationals at age 53 - usually if you get
past 50 you won't get a major-league job for some reason. I'm thankful
someone was interested in hiring me. I tried for the Dodgers' (open
play-by-play job) before Charley Steiner got it, I tried for jobs in
I found lately that I really started to enjoy writing - game stories on
football or basketball or women's soccer, writing them for the website
and the paper (at
Hopefully I can put in half the career that Bob did in his 57 years as the PA guy. I don't think I'll last as long as he did, but then, he was working until he was 97. That's an amazing achievement anywhere.