11/26/09 11:00 AM EST
Sheppard gives thanks for place in history
'Voice of Yankee Stadium' looks back on more than 50 years
By Bryan Hoch / MLB.com
One month after celebrating his 99th birthday by watching the Yankees inch closer to their 27th World Series championship -- the first Fall Classic he missed in the Bronx since 1951 -- Sheppard has decided it is time to officially cede control of his microphone to a successor.
"I have no plans of coming back," Sheppard said on Wednesday in a telephone interview. "Time has passed me by, I think. 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."
Sheppard's legendary service to the organization began by introducing the lineups on April 17, 1951, and spanned approximately 4,500 games, including 121 consecutive postseason contests, a streak that ended in 2007 due to illness.
Born on Oct. 20, 1910, the grind of the job is mostly what keeps Sheppard from returning, particularly his lengthy commute from Long Island. That prompted him to leave his duties announcing New York Giants football games at the Meadowlands early in 2006.
Sheppard said that he doubts "very, very much" that he will be able to perform the public address duties for even one Yankees game in 2010.
"It's not just the two hours or three hours of baseball," Sheppard said. "It's the trip, the preparation, the trip home, and a long, long day. I think at my age, it's time to accept the fact that I had a great run. A great run. And I only made a few mistakes along the way."
Unable to attend Yankee Stadium's final game on Sept. 21, 2008, Sheppard recorded the lineups from his home on Long Island and provided a valedictory send-off to the facility. This year, Sheppard said he watched the Yankees' march to the title on television, and enjoyed his new perspective.
"I was very much intimate with the action," Sheppard said. "I just felt, in one way, it's even better to be here than to be up in my booth. This way, I'm comfortable, I have no outside assignments, and I can concentrate on the game.
"My heart beats when they win, and it stops beating when they lose. That's part of the game and I did it for over 50 years, so it is nothing new to me."
Sheppard said that he has not set foot inside the new Yankee Stadium, but he regularly speaks with Paul Olden, whom he considers a worthy successor to his public address duties.
"He seems to me to be a very quiet, dignified and professional fellow taking over my job after my 50 or more years up there," Sheppard said. "When I can hear him in the background when I'm listening to the TV, he sounds clear. He sounds dignified. I think he sounds professional. That's what the Yankees were looking for."
Sheppard's absence from the ballpark the past two years has not been entirely his decision.
"I haven't been well," Sheppard said. "I had problems breathing for a while, and then I had a loss of weight. Now I'm trying to build myself back up again to get back to the stamina that I had when I played football at St. John's [University] many, many, many years ago, and life-guarding in the summer. I was at one time, about two years ago, down to 103 pounds.
"The doctor said that when I get to be about 145 pounds, he will give me clearance again. I have now reached about 137 and I'm not too far from what he wanted me to be. I have to keep building, and I'll be back at my best weight."
Sheppard was tickled to learn that the Yankees formally dedicated the press dining area as "Sheppard's Place." After asking if the food is good -- it is -- Sheppard said that he hopes to take a tour next spring through the cafeteria to enjoy lunch, and see where his booth would have been.
|"It's time to accept the fact that I had a great run. A great run. And I only made a few mistakes along the way."|
|-- Bob Sheppard|
Sheppard considers his most lasting compliment to also be the one that fans hear for each of Derek Jeter's at-bats at the new Stadium. When Sheppard missed the 2007 playoffs with a bronchial infection, Jeter asked to have a recording of Sheppard's introduction played for each of his at-bats.
Though Sheppard has not returned, the recording has remained, in Sheppard's unmistakable style: "Now batting for the Yankees, number two, Derek Jeter, number two."
"I think it might be one of the finest compliments I have ever received, that he wants my voice introducing him," Sheppard said. "He feels comfortable listening to the same introduction that he earned when he joined the Yankees when he was young."
Asked if he has any words of advice or wisdom for fans who hope to lead long and full lives of their own, Sheppard -- a devout Roman Catholic -- said that one possible secret for his longevity has been his spirituality, as he still tries to attend Mass every day.
"I pray. I thank God for giving me ninety-nine years," Sheppard said. "Ninety-nine years. Wow. Can you envision that? If you dream of living long, I would recommend it to you."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.