Normally, referring to someone’s voice as the “voice of God” would be considered a form of blasphemy. However, there’s just one exception to this rule: Bob Sheppard.
Sheppard possessed one of the most distinguished and recognized voices of the past century that made him a revered public address announcer. As the one-year anniversary of his death (July 11) recently passed, it is important to remember the legacy of not only a great sports figure but also a man of great faith.
Sheppard was born in Richmond Hill in 1910, though the exact date remains uncertain. He would have celebrated his 100th birthday if he had lived three more months last year.
He graduated from St. John’s Prep, Astoria, in 1928 and excelled in multiple sports. As a left-handed thrower, he not only made a great first baseman in baseball but also a slinging quarterback in football.
From there, he attended St. John’s University, Jamaica, where he continued his athletic prowess. Sheppard earned seven varsity letters (three in baseball, four in football) during his four years in college.
Upon graduation, he played semi-pro football on Long Island for the Valley Stream Rough Riders and the Hempstead Monitors. Additionally, he taught speech classes at Grover Cleveland H.S., Ridgewood.
The 1940s were a tumultuous time for this nation as well as for Sheppard. He served in the Navy during World War II. Only after fulfilling his responsibility to his country did he then embark on his announcing career.
Sheppard began announcing St. John’s basketball and football games after the war. Even so, he always valued his teaching positions first and foremost. He became the chairman of the speech department at John Adams H.S., Ozone Park, and taught evening public speaking courses at St John’s.
“When I hear from former students and they say I helped them achieve their goals, I feel I have contributed to society more than all I have done in sports,” Sheppard once said.
After a stint announcing Brooklyn Dodgers football (that’s right, football not baseball) games at Ebbets Field in the late 1940s, Sheppard was hired as the public address announcer at Yankee Stadium.
He made his Yankees announcing debut on April 17, 1951 during a game that featured eight future Hall of Famers: Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Johnny Mize, Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto, Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr and Lou Boudreau.
He worked for just $15 per game, but fans truly appreciated his clear diction and accurate speaking. He later took over announcing football games for the New York Giants in 1956.
Not only did his voice leave a lasting impact on the fans, but players came to revere Sheppard’s voice as well. It was the great Reggie Jackson that coined Sheppard’s voice as the “voice of God.”
“You’re not in the big leagues until Bob Sheppard announces your name,” said famed Boston Red Sox Hall of Famer and hated Yankee rival Carl Yastrzemski.
Sheppard will always be remembered for his opening phrase of each game that sent chills down the spines of fans attending their first game or seasoned ballpark veterans alike: “Good evening (afternoon)…ladies and gentlemen…and welcome…to Yankee Stadium.”
Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter grew so accustomed to hearing Sheppard announce his name that he requested a recording be played every time he stepped to the plate, even after Sheppard’s death.
“Now batting…the shortstop… No. 2…Derek Jeter…No. 2.”
In 56 years with the Yankees, Sheppard announced more than 4,500 games. However, age caught up with legendary announcer in 2006. He missed all of 2008 and officially retired in 2009.
“Time has passed me by, I think,” lamented Sheppard in an interview with MLB.com. “I had a good run for it. I enjoyed doing what I did. I don’t think at my age, I’m going to suddenly regain the stamina that is really needed if you do the job and do it well.”
During the game after his death in 2010, the Yankees honored Sheppard by having no public address announcements the entire game.
In addition to having a memorial in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium and being inducted into several local Halls of Fame, Sheppard was honored at St. John’s Prep in 2004 at the school’s annual reunion dinner.
At the event, sportscaster Sal Marchiano, St. John’s Prep ’58, gave a tribute to Sheppard that highlighted his devout faith. In fact, New York Times sports columnist George Vescey once called Sheppard “as strong in his Roman Catholic faith as anybody I knew.”
Meanwhile, rather than reminisce about his announcing career, Sheppard shared his memories with the audience about when he was chosen as the first baseman of the baseball team 80 years earlier.
Sheppard’s legacy still reverberates around the new Yankee Stadium. Upon his death, his son, Paul, summed up his father’s life in a memorable quotation: “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!”
Follow Jim Mancari on Twitter @JMMancari.