The Deacon's Bench

12sheppardcnd_337-span-articleLarge.jpg A friend who follows baseball — Mike “God Googler” Hayes — draws my attention to a big loss in the world of sports:

Bob Sheppard, whose elegant intonation as the public-address announcer at Yankee Stadium for more than half a century personified the image of Yankee grandeur, died Sunday at his home in Baldwin, on Long Island. He was 99.

His death was confirmed by his son, Paul.

From the last days of DiMaggio through the primes of Mantle, Berra, Jackson and Jeter, Sheppard’s precise, resonant, even Olympian elocution — he was sometimes called the Voice of God — greeted Yankee fans with the words, “Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to Yankee Stadium.”

“The Yankees and Bob Sheppard were a marriage made in heaven,” said his son Paul Sheppard, a 71-year-old financial adviser. “I know St. Peter will now recruit him. If you’re lucky enough to go to heaven, you’ll be greeted by a voice, saying, ‘Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to heaven!’ ”

In an era of blaring stadium music, of public-address announcers styling themselves as entertainers and cheerleaders, Sheppard, a man with a passion for poetry and Shakespeare, shunned hyperbole.

“A public-address announcer should be clear, concise, correct,” he said. “He should not be colorful, cute or comic.” …

… Sheppard was chairman of the speech department at John Adams High School in Queens and an adjunct professor of speech at St. John’s University while becoming a New York institution as a public-address announcer.

“I don’t change my pattern,” he once said. “I speak at Yankee Stadium the same way I do in a classroom, a saloon or reading… at Mass at St. Christopher’s.”

That last detail is what struck Mike Hayes, who has fond memories of Sheppard the devoted Catholic:

The guy was the classiest man I have ever met. A daily communicant all his life, Sheppard was a big supporter of Catholic education, coaching forensics at Mary Louis Academy in Queens and teaching speech at St John’s University for dozens of years (a fact unknown by many). He inspired me to go into ministry when I was a locker room reporter for WOR and we chatted in the middle of a ballgame in his booth.

He asked my last name and I told him “Hayes.”

He replied, “Oh! Like the Cardinal! (A former Archbishop of New York-no relation).”

He then said, “Well what the heck are you doing HERE!? You should be at the seminary or something!”

Read the rest of Mike’s warm remembrance, and whisper up a prayer for the Voice of God. 

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him…

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