The house that Babe Ruth built on the corner of 161st and River Avenue in the Bronx, now lays in a muddy-fenced mess. Amidst mangled wire and metal, history has moved across the street. That building for so long had been a part of folk lore in the baseball world for the crazy late game heroics believed to be spurred on by the ghosts of Yankee past. One voice acted as a conduit for those immortalized ghosts, a voice that Hall of Fame player Reggie Jackson called, "the voice of God."
Bob Sheppard passed away at the (believed) age of 99; he called games for 56 years in the old Yankee Stadium as the Public Address Announcer, from 1951 to 2007. During that time, Bob Sheppard called 13 of their 27 championships, 62 World Series games and two All-Star games. The first Yankee game he announced on April 17th, 1951 was against the Red Sox (of course), and featured eight Hall of Fame players. Yogi Berra, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Johnny Mize, and Phil Rizzuto for the Yankees; and Lou Boudreau, Bobby Doerr, and Ted Williams for the Red Sox. From 1951 to 2007, he pretty much called all of the Hall of Famers (70) to play the game.
Bob Sheppard grew up in the New York, served in the Navy and became a teacher of speech and debate in and around the New York area. He moved on to calling games at sporting events at the schools he taught at, and continued to do so even after he became the voice of the Yankees. He called football games for the Brooklyn Dodgers of the All-American Football Conference, before getting called in by the Yankee's front office. In 1951 his voice became the standard of the Yankees, and the New York Football Giants after they moved to Yankee stadium in 1956. He took the trip along with the G-men into East Rutherford and called games until 2005.
My first memories as a Yankee fan can be summed up in four memories. The first memory is walking out of the booming echo of the tunnel and ascending upon the pristine green ball field in front of my eyes. The second is the sounds of organist Eddie Layton who played from 1967-2003 (with various breaks from '71-'77). The third is the ting-ting-ting of Freddy Sez's pan. And the fourth was a voice, a voice that I will always associate with the game. Every batter I have seen since has been introduced in my mind through the cadence of Bob Sheppard. I heard him every at bat in little league, every game I watch on TV, and even now every time I come up to bat in softball. Some things fit within the senses of the human body, and Bob Sheppard's voice with baseball was one of those things.
His voice sent shivers down the spines of baseball enthusiasts and players alike. Each call was simple, never overstated but to the point. "Now batting, number 2, Derek Jeter, number 2." No fluff, no hysteria for any big leaguer or Hall of Fame player he announced. Every player was treated the same, number, name, number.
We live in an age where celebrity players who have yet to win championships hold sport fans, networks hostage over free agency decisions and players choose to use primetime as a vehicle to "generate money for charity" for their "decision." Remember the name Bob Sheppard. He wasn't an athlete, but he was there day in and day out. With us, the fans, bringing those players one step closer to us. He was a voice of the game who helped pass the basic information along. In his approach he became bigger than the game. He didn't try to become bigger, he just was. Simplicity over spectacle.