Sunday, September 21, 2008

"The voice of God" speaks

Wading through all the blather in the media today about the final home game at Yankee Stadium. One thing stands out, though: Bob Sheppard. The Post's Steve Serby did his Sunday Q-and-A with Sheppard, one of the city's most iconic and classy figures. He is the legendary voice of Yankee Stadium who started as public-address announcer in 1951. Unfortunately, an illness has kept the 97 year old (!) from the Stadium this season.

This passage really jumps out. Serby asks him his thoughts on various Yankees through the years.

Q: George Steinbrenner?

A: Do you know, after being there (more than) 50 years, I don't think we ever exchanged more than three or four lines over the time, and they were all cordial.

Wow. Well, given how shabbily Steinbrenner has treated his people, maybe this is a good thing...

Anyway, Sheppard ends on a hopeful note:

Q: The new Yankee Stadium?

A: Tell the people who read The Post I'm looking forward to next year.

He's too weak to attend tonight's last game. Still, as the Times noted in a profile of Sheppard yesterday:

Sheppard’s voice will be heard Sunday night, as it has been all season — as the recorded introduction for No. 2, the Yankee captain Derek Jeter, after Jeter requested this rare favor. The shortstop’s name — JEE-tah — has become a stylized flourish for Sheppard, who is otherwise a purist. Or maybe we all have exaggerated it, as we imitated it. At any rate, when they finally tear down the old place, that echo will bounce off the apartment buildings and bridges and hills of the Bronx and Manhattan — JEE-tah, JEE-tah, JEE-tah — forever.

Sheppard’s legacy is secure — half a century of Giants football games, including the classic 1958 championship loss to Baltimore, his voice and microphone ensconced in the Baseball Hall of Fame (even if the rules have not been bent to induct him along with hallowed broadcasters) and inclusion in a few movies and commercials over the years. (He does have a business side to him.)

Essentially, Sheppard is a simple man, as some poets and clerics and teachers can be termed simple. He never sought the company of the athletes. He had his own niche in life, and he still does, giving thanks that he can attend church each morning, go shopping, and in good weather walk the garden behind his home, always with Mary.

They are the most handsome couple in the world. I used to see them walking the shoreline at Jones Beach State Park in the summer of 1961, but what I did not know was that they were newlyweds. When I sat in their living room a few months ago, they told me how they met, at church, of course, after Sheppard’s first wife died of a brain tumor, leaving him with four children. He invited Mary Hoffman to the beach, where they swam and played pitch-and-putt golf, and, when he was ready, he proposed.

Bob has not resumed serving as a lector at Mass, but Mary reads from the scripture many mornings — “the best female lector I have ever heard,” he said Friday, as if he were saying “No. 2, Derek JEE-tah.”

The Sheppards resisted the Yankees’ kind offer of a limousine for Sunday night, but they do go out.

“You know how old I am?” Sheppard asked. “My daughter, Mary, is celebrating her 50th year in the convent. Can you imagine? And she is still young and beautiful.”

Sheppard in action from last season:

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