Yan­kees’ ‘Voice of God’ dies at 99

Shep­pard’s voice made play­ers long to hear him speak

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS BRIEFING - By Ron­ald Blum

‘He was the one con­stant at Yan­kee Sta­dium. He was part of the ex­pe­ri­ence.’

DEREK JETER, Yan­kees short­stop, on Bob Shep­pard

NEW YORK — Bob Shep­pard, whose stylish, el­e­gant sta­dium introductions of New York Yan­kees from Joltin’ Joe to Derek Jeter spanned more than a half cen­tury and earned him the nick­name “The Voice of God” from Reg­gie Jack­son, died Sun­day. He was 99.

Shep­pard, a gen­tle man who spoke with the sonorous author­ity of a gi­ant, died at his Long Is­land home in Bald­win with his wife, Mary, at his side, the Yan­kees said.

His voice, how­ever, will live on in record­ings. His mel­liflu­ous tone still is heard at Yan­kees games, nearly three years af­ter his fi­nale, when it is played to in­tro­duce cap­tain Derek Jeter, who wanted it that way.

“Ev­ery time you hear it, you sort of get chills,” Jeter said.

Shep­pard started with the Yan­kees in April 1951 and worked his last game at Yan­kee Sta­dium in Septem­ber 2007, when he be­came ill with a bronchial in­fec­tion.

“He was the one con­stant at Bob Shep­pard an­nounced such Yan­kee greats as Joe DiMag­gio, left, and can still be heard — on tape — in­tro­duc­ing Derek Jeter. Yan­kee Sta­dium,” Jeter said “He was part of the ex­pe­ri­ence.”

His “Good af­ter­noon, ladies and gen­tle­man, and wel­come to Yan­kee Sta­dium,” was as much a part of the team’s iden­tity as the pin­stripes it­self. And for a per­son heard far more of­ten than seen, he be­came a fan fa­vorite along­side Joe DiMag­gio, Yogi Berra, Mickey Man­tle and Jeter.

Shep­pard also worked New York Giants foot­ball games for 50 years, mov­ing with them from Yan­kee Sta­dium to the Mead­ow­lands. He did bas­ket­ball and foot­ball at St. John’s Uni­ver­sity; Army foot­ball; and the Cos­mos soc­cer team, among other things.

Yan­kees games, how­ever, were the source of his great­est iden­tity. The team en­shrined him with a plaque in Mon­u­ment Park on May 7, 2000.

“He used to say, ‘I’m out there with Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMag­gio and two popes. Not bad,’’’ his son Christo­pher re­called.

Shep­pard’s style was so sim­ple, yet be­came much im­i­tated. Play­ers longed to hear him pro­nounce their names. Be­fore the 1998 World Se­ries against San Diego, fu­ture Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn sat in the third-base dugout talk­ing about how much he wanted to meet “Mr. Shep­pard.”

“Com­ing up to home plate and hear­ing your name was spe­cial,” said Lou Piniella, a for­mer Yan­kees star and man­ager.

Shep­pard was per­haps the only Yan­kees em­ployee never crit­i­cized by hard-driv­ing owner Ge­orge Stein­bren­ner, who lauded his “ma­jes­tic enun­ci­a­tion’’ and called him “the gold stan­dard.”

“A voice that you hear in your dreams, in your sleep,” Braves third base­man Chip­per Jones said Sun­day.

Shep­pard’s player introductions re­mained con­sis­tent through­out the decades, with Shep­pard in­still­ing each name and num­ber with a grav­i­tas more in keep­ing with a coro­na­tion than a ball­park out­ing: “No. 7. Mickey Man­tle. No. 7.” Or even “No. 58. Dooley Wo­mack. No. 58.”

Shep­pard con­ducted him­self with an un­der­stated and dig­ni­fied de­liv­ery. He em­ployed per­fect dic­tion, be­fit­ting a man who con­sid­ered his real job teach­ing speech at St. John’s.

“I’m not a cheer­leader, a screecher or a cir­cus barker, who strings out the an­nounce­ment of a home team player,’’ he said. “That cur­dles my spirit when I hear it. But each has his own style.’’

Shep­pard also was known for his speak­ing as a church lec­tor. He taught priests how to give ser­mons.

“I elec­tri­fied the sem­i­nary by say­ing seven min­utes is long enough on a Sun­day morn­ing. Seven min­utes. But I don’t think they lis­tened to me,” he said. “The best-known speech in Amer­i­can his­tory is the Get­tys­burg Ad­dress, and it’s about four min­utes long. Isn’t that some­thing?”

Julie Ja­cob­son

An­nouncer Bob Shep­pard started with the New York Yan­kees in 1951. His im­pec­ca­ble introductions of play­ers earned him the ‘Voice of God’ nick­name. ‘Com­ing up to home plate and hear­ing your name was spe­cial,’ said Lou Piniella, an ex-Yan­kees star and man­ager.

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