Bob Sheppard, the legendary public address announcer for the New York Yankees from 1951 to 2007, died on July 11th at the age of 99. He was raised in Queens and went to St. John’s University, where he won seven letters and served as senior class president, and later returned to serve as a speech professor. While best known for his announcement work, he always considered his teaching duties more important than his announcement duties, but Yankee fans were fortunate to witness his use of the former to elevate the latter.
As a fellow Queens kid who grew up listening to Yankees games on the radio, Sheppard’s voice — dubbed “The Voice of God” by Reggie Jackson — was an integral part of my relationship with the team. Through the dark days of the mid-’80s to the early ’90s, to the triumphant years at the end of the century, the distinctly sonorous cadence of Sheppard’s announcements offered fans an enduring reference point beyond the team’s fickle American League standings.
Sheppard’s manner harkened to a different era, when baseball was largely followed on the radio. In an interview with ESPN, Sheppard said, “The modern public address announcer is a screamer, he’s a shouter, and he is very, very flamboyant,” better suited for a wrestling ring. In contrast, Sheppard described his method as “clear, concise and correct.” As a baseball fan who listened to both Yankees and Mets games, I witnessed the contrast and understood Sheppard’s intent. The game was perfect by itself; it did not need a promoter, but merely someone who respected its dignity. Sheppard did so superlatively and stylishly, as seen in the sack-jacketed 1972 photo above.
“I don’t go to work; I go to a game,” Sheppard once said, as if baseball was too sacred to be a job. As the announcer for the sport’s most storied franchise, Sheppard served as a trustee charged with protecting a key part of New York’s heritage and capturing the imaginations of succeeding generations. He will be missed by millions of fans, including this one. — WILL CHOU
Recent Yale grad Will Chou is currently pursuing graduate studies in history at Ohio State University. He avidly indulges in sports, travel and food and would like Roger Sterling to be godfather to his future son.
Sheppard photo from the New York Daily News.