He always considered himself a teacher first, but to millions of sports fans, Bob Sheppard would become known for his work as public address announcer, most notably for the New York Yankees and football’s New York Giants. His road to those jobs was quite interesting.
After earning his degree in speech education in 1933, Sheppard began his career as a teacher, ultimately landing a job at alma mater, St. John’s University in New York. Then his country called him and he serve in the U.S. Navy in World War II.
After the war, he returned to St. John’s and resumed as well as beginning his “second career” as a p.a. announcer for the school’s basketball and football games. In 1948, he became the p.a. announcer at Ebbets Field for the Brooklyn Dodgers; not the baseball team, but rather the football team in the old All American Football Conference. It was during a tribute to Babe Ruth that a Yankee official heard Sheppard and offered him their p.a. announcer job. Sheppard declined the offer.
The New York Yankees finally persuaded Sheppard to work for them after they agreed to hire an understudy on days that conflicted with his teaching duties. On April 17, 1951, Bob Sheppard began a 57-year career with the Yankees. He would become noted for a style that would become his trademark: proper diction and correct grammar. He believed a good p.a. announcer should be “clear, concise, and correct”. Never should you be “colorful, cute, or comic”. In 1956, he would add the New York Giants football games to his workload.
Sheppard’s voice would become as synonymous with Yankee Stadium as the facade and Monument Park, and his distinct style earned him the nickname “The Voice of God” by Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson. In May of 2000, Sheppard earned the ultimate honor by the Yankees when he got a plaque dedicated in his honor in Monument Park.
In 2007, Sheppard’s health began to get worse. He could not work the last month of the season or the postseason. He hoped to be back for the 2008 season, but his health would not permit it, so Jim Hall-whose voice was similar to Sheppard’s-served as the p.a. announcer. 2009 would mark the opening of the new Yankee Stadium, and Sheppard hoped to be there; again, poor health prevented it, and former Yankee announcer Paul Olden got the call.
Sadly on July 11, 2010, Bob Sheppard passed away at the age of 99, three months and nine days shy of turning 100. He left a legacy that will be difficult to match. A man who is one of only two people to earn a World Series ring and a Super Bowl ring for his work with the Giants, the other being Oakland A’s and Raiders announcer Bill King.
The original Yankee Stadium has often been called “The Cathedral of Major League Baseball”. If that is the case, then Robert Leo Sheppard was its right Reverend.