Yankees’ ‘Voice of God’ dies at 99
Sheppard’s voice made players long to hear him speak
‘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?”
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.