Baseball is a game that is constantly evolving. While the main axioms on the field have stayed the same throughout the game’s 111-year history, nearly every other facet of baseball has seen change. The expansion of major league baseball westward, the creation of divisions, the wild card races, the DH, free agency, and the new analytics are but a few examples of how
baseball has been reshaped since the beginning of the 20th century.
But while change will inevitably occur, the game’s greatest allure will always be its tradition. Its stories are passed from generation to generation, and its modern players are always compared to those of the past. In no other sport are records so sacrosanct. And in no other sport does the history of players and their teams surround and affect the game at all times. It is a kismet connection between generations, woven into the very fabric of American history.
And with no franchise is this more true than with that of the New York Yankees. One needs to only stroll through Monument Park at the new Yankee Stadium before a Yankees game and view the plaques of Bronx greats, from Babe Ruth to Don Mattingly, and of course, public address announcer Bob Sheppard to understand how prevalent the Yankees’ past is amongst the current gentlemen that adorn the pinstripes. The plaques there stand as a constant reminder, lest any one of them ever forget.
For nearly six whole decades, Sheppard was essentially the voice to those ghosts of baseball’s past rumored to reside within the old Yankee Stadium. His voice, filled with the precision and dignity that embodied the franchise itself, welcomed fans to the park on a nightly basis with his signature greeting, “Good Evening Ladies and Gentleman and Welcome to Yankee Stadium.” He was the one constant at the old stadium from 1951 until 2007
Mr. Sheppard announced every starting lineup and the presence of every hitter in the batter’s box at Yankee Stadium for 57 seasons. In his first game (Opening Day of 1951), Sheppard would call out the names of Mantle, two DiMaggio’s, Johnny Mize, Yogi Berra, Phill Rizzuto, Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, and Lou Boudreau — all but Dominic DiMaggio are Hall of Famers. In his final game, Mr. Sheppard called out the names of Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Alex Rodriguez, Johnny Damon, and Robinson Cano. In a sport that has morphed in the aforementioned ways, Sheppard’s regal and proper cadence blurred the lines that separate the progressing generations of the Yankees and its fans.
On July 11th, Bob Sheppard passed away at age 99. But neither retirement nor death can silence the voice that was regularly deemed “the Voice of God,” and called “the Gold Standard” by the recently deceased Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.
In a touching tribute, his booming voice lofted over the warm night air in Anaheim at the 2010 All-Star Game as Derek Jeter came to bat for the first time. And he will continue to be heard at every Yankees home game, at the very least until Jeter retires, as the Yankees’ captain — always a player with an immense amount of respect for the uniform he wears — has insisted that for every home at-bat, he will be introduced by Mr. Sheppard (and with no musical accompaniment, like the latest club hit or heavy metal track). It is a testament to the respect that those with a true reverence for the game of baseball have for a man who occupied a position that is usually cloaked in anonymity.