Tuesday, December 1, 2009

An era in Yankee history ends

Less than a month after the New York Yankees won their 27th World Series championship by dispatching the Philadelphia Phillies in 6 games, one of their most recognizable personalities officially closed a chapter in the team's storied history.

Public address announcer Bob Sheppard announced his retirement on Thanksgiving night, more than 2 years after he'd worked his last game at the original Yankee Stadium. Sheppard had been battling illness since the 2007 season, yet continued to work until it got to the point where he could not continue. Former Yankee broadcaster Paul Olden, who'd worked for the team during the 90's, assumed PA duties this year, unsure of whether or not Sheppard would return. After more than 50 years of welcoming fans into the hallowed Stadium, however, Sheppard conceded that his career had come to an end, and made it official, which of course merited a back page headline in the New York tabloids.

Even though Sheppard has not yet set foot in the new Stadium, his voice has been heard just the same. All-Star shortstop Derek Jeter, named Sports Illustrated's 2009 Sportsman of the Year on Monday, requested that a recording of Sheppard's introduction of him be played whenever he came to bat, a testimony to the respect Jeter has for Sheppard.

When the Yankees' NY-Penn League affiliate in Staten Island came to Troy to play the Tri-City Valleycats in recent years, someone associated with either team would do a incredible, spot-on mimic of Sheppard's distinctive voice for one inning. You'd swear Sheppard himself had made the trip. Sheppard can also be heard doing voice-overs for the YES network, but those bits were recorded when the network was launched 7 years ago. You have to believe that Sheppard will be honored by the Yankees sometime next year, including getting a plaque in Monument Park.

In addition to his work with the Yankees, Sheppard performed the same duties for the NFL's NY Giants for more than 50 years until stepping away from the mic at Giants Stadium following the 2006 season. I for one didn't realize this until a few years ago, when I could hear him while the game announcers were talking.

I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if the Yankees or their mammoth fan base campaigned to have Sheppard become the first PA announcer (I think) inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. To them, it would be a fitting coda to a distinguished career.

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