Though Stilled, the Voice of Bob Sheppard Lives on at Yankee Stadium
Bob Sheppard’s voice has resonated through the New York Yankees’ PA system since the first game he ever announced, on April 17, 1951. The lineup that day included seven players who went on to become Hall of Famers: the Yankees’ Yogi Berra, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Johnny Mize, and Phil Rizzuto and the Red Sox’ Lou Boudreau and Ted Williams.
That voice — dubbed “The Voice of God” by Reggie Jackson — was stilled over the weekend. Sheppard, 99, died after a long illness.
As the Boston Globe described his precise, elegantly articulate introductions of Yankee stars, “his meticulous pronunciations were widely mimicked but never duplicated.”
Even after his passing, however, Yankees fans will continue to enjoy his sonorous baritone: an audio recording he made during the 2007 season, prior to his becoming ill with a bronchial infection, is still used to introduce Derek Jeter before each home game at-bat by the Yankees captain. For the final game at the old Yankee Stadium in 2008, he had prerecorded a greeting to fans and the introduction of New York’s starting lineup.
For most of his career, Sheppard used a Beyerdynamic MC834 microphone. It was retired to the Hall of Fame in 2000, commemorating his 50th season announcing the Yankees. After that, he used several other mics of more recent vintage.
The 3 Cs
During home games, Sheppard worked in a small iso booth adjacent to the audio mixer’s position in the scoreboard-control center inside Yankee Stadium. The microphone defaulted to a muted status: he had to depress a pedal when he was ready to speak, at which time a red light would indicate ready status, ensuring that no stray comments could make it to air.
His channel would have a touch of EQ on it and nothing else. The classic echo on his voice came from the bounce-back of the speakers out in center field. A glass pane separated the two positions and gave Sheppard the solitude he needed to achieve his “3 Cs” of quality at each game: clear, concise, and correct.
His articulation was legendary; he taught speech at St. John’s University in Queens. His terse format never varied. He would announce the player’s number, then the name, and then repeat the number: “Now batting, number two, Derek Jeter, number two.”
As for correctness, Michael Bonner, senior director of scoreboard and broadcast operations for the Yankees, remembers that Sheppard would go to the visiting team’s dugout and locker room to check on the exact pronunciation of a player’s name.
“The one he had the most fun with was [Angels’ right-hander] Shigetoshi Hasegawa,” Bonner recalls. “He really understood how important the sound of a name was. He loved how ‘Mickey Mantle’ and ‘Derek Jeter’ sounded for their cadence.”
“Godfather of the Press Dining Room”
Bonner also remembers that, between inning halves at the Stadium, Sheppard’s booth was a convivial, social locus, located across from the hot-dog stand that serviced the press area. “I’d turn around, and there’d always be somebody there, talking with Mr. Sheppard. He’d just leave the door open. He was the godfather of the press dining room.”
Several times in the last three years, Bonner and another Yankees staffer visited Sheppard at his homes — in Baldwin, NY, and Jupiter, FL, depending on time of year — to record new lineup announcements, as well as announcements for two Fantasy Camps each year. He also recorded voiceovers in character for Billy Crystal’s one-man show 700 Sundays, which ran on Broadway in 2004 and 2005. He recorded to the audio tracks of a Sony UVW100 standard-def ENG camera.
The lineup recordings will continue to be used; Jeter’s will be used to introduce the Yankee captain’s appearance at the All-Star Game. Originally done for the 2008 All-Star Game, it was sent to Angel Stadium in Anaheim, CA, as a .wav file attached to an e-mail.
“Derek made the request two years ago that Shep’s voice always be used to announce him, even after Bob was no longer there,” says Bonner. “Mr. Sheppard said that that was one of the greatest honors he had ever received.”