By now, most sports fans, especially those in the New York area, have no doubt heard the news that Bob Sheppard, the longtime Yankee Stadium Public Address announcer whose resonant, lordly tones led Reggie Jackson to dub him "The Voice of God," has let it be known that he was officially retiring -- at the remarkable age of 99 -- from a career that saw him behind the microphone for well over half a century of Yankee home baseball games (not to mention fifty years of Giants football games along the way, too.)
Working as I have since 2004 as an occasional official scorer for Major League Baseball at Yankee and Met games played in New York, I have been one of the fortunate people who've been allowed to dwell a bit within Bob Sheppard's air space, via the internal press box and radio and TV broadcast booths over which official scorers make their announcements throughout a ball game. People think all you do as official scorer is decide whether it's a hit or an error on questionable plays, but as the recording secretary of the game you are also responsible for formally announcing everything out of the "ordinary" -- i.e., sacrifices, stolen bases, double plays -- as well as the finished pitching lines (hits, runs, earned runs, walks, strikeouts, etc.) for every hurler who appears. And with so many relief pitchers used these days that can mean an announcement every five minutes throughout the last three or four innings of any given game.
In any event, if there's one thing you learn early on in the scoring business, it's that you never, ever step on the PA announcer's voice when he's talking, and as such you need to quickly become attuned to the individual rhythms of different stadium announcers. With Bob Sheppard, of course, that always meant waiting for that little signature addendum repeating a player's number after their name ("Now batting, the shortstop, number two, Derek Jeter...number two"). And, although seated in the press box as we are, the official scorers don't really have much in-game contact with the PA announcer in his booth, there is a small but palpable sense of kinship. And you better believe one of the great rewards of working Yankee games over the last few years before the good Sheppard stopped doing them in late 2007 was feeling, however faintly, that bound-in-tradition kinship.
I last worked a game announced by Bob Sheppard in July 2007, about a month or so before increasing health problems prevented him from finishing the season -- and thus missing his first Yankee playoffs since his very first year on the job, all the way back in 1951. It was Saturday, July 21, and I scored the afternoon game of a day-night doubleheader against Tampa Bay. After I'd finished filling out the hard copy box score (another of the official scorer's duties, by the way) and had turned it over to the Yankees to get faxed into the Elias Sports Bureau statistical office, I went down to the press dining room on the basement floor of the old Stadium to unwind a bit before heading home. Ordinarily, Sheppard would be out the door almost immediately after the final out of a game -- the Yankees always kept an elevator ready for him so he could quickly catch the car waiting downstairs to take him home to Long Island -- but since there was another contest coming up in just a few hours, there he was in the dining room getting some food when I arrived. I went over and said hello to the ever so gaunt but still stately-looking Sheppard and told him that I'd been scoring the game. "I thought I heard a different voice today," he said, extending his hand. "You did a fine job, young man."
I can still hear him.