I work in a college mailroom. My days are spent walking from one side of the campus to the other and back again. And then again. I do the same thing at the same time in the same way every single day, five days a week, all year long.
It gets old sometimes. And when it does, I think of Bob Sheppard.
You don’t have to be a baseball fan to appreciate what Bob Sheppard did, you just need to have a job. Doesn’t matter what sort of job, either. CEO or housewife, mailman or doctor. Whatever. The truly great people in this world are the ones who are an example for everyone, regardless of who they are and what they do.
That was Bob Sheppard.
In April of 1951, he took a part-time job to supplement the income he received from what he called his real job—teaching speech at St. John’s. Not a rare thing, taking on extra work. Not then, not now. Where that job was and what it entailed, however, was rare indeed.
He became the announcer at Yankee Stadium.
For the next fifty-six years, until a bronchial infection forced him to retire in September of 2007, he sat high above the crowd in a cramped room and uttered the names of batters and pitchers and stadium messages. He announced sixty-two World Series games, two All-Star games, and introduced nearly eighty Hall of Fame players. If was one of those players, Reggie Jackson, who gave Sheppard the nickname he would carry for the rest of his life—The Voice of God.
This man, whose face was seldom seen by fans and whose uniform was a finely-pressed suit, became just as much a part of the New York Yankees as Joe Dimaggio and Micky Mantle. In 2000, the team honored him with a plaque in Monument Park. Visiting players would take an extra few seconds before stepping into the batter’s box just so they could hear Bob Sheppard say their name. He would often sit in the Yankees’ dugout during batting practice, and players, titans of their sport and heroes to millions, would quietly approach and ask to meet him. When Alex Rodriguez signed with the Yankees, one of his first acts was to ask the PR people if they could help him get Sheppard’s autograph.
Amazing, isn’t it?
Because with all due respect, Bob Sheppard didn’t do much. He announced names. Nothing more. One could argue that the vendor who sold hot dogs and beer in the right field bleachers did more work than Bob Sheppard over the course of a ballgame. He would even carry a book with him to the games so he could read between batters, pausing only to offer his usual order of announcing a player—position, number, name, number for the first time through the batting order, after which came just the position and the name.
Doesn’t sound like the stuff of legend, you might say.
But you’d be wrong. Because here is where Bob Sheppard teaches us all. Here is where one of life’s most important lessons is displayed in both detail and glory.
In an age where sports announcers are more circus ringleaders and cheerleaders, he was not. Bob Sheppard did not scream, did not raise his voice, did not offer any sort of emotion or spectacle. He had three rules that he followed through the course of thousands of games—be clear, be concise, and be exact. He followed this pattern unwaveringly. Exactly. Delivering them with a constancy that brought his duties as close to perfection as is humanly possible.
He was, according to Yankee legend Don Mattingly, “…the constant.”
Yes. That’s what Bob Sheppard teaches us.
That in the end it doesn’t matter what we do to make a living, it’s how we do it. It’s turning our work into art, whether that work be washing a load of laundry or leading a country. It is striving toward an unattainable perfection and perfecting ourselves along the way. Not wishing for more, but knowing we’ve been given all we need.
Bob Sheppard died last Sunday. He was ninety-nine years old. There were more than a few who mourned his passing as one of the last remnants of a time when it was grace and restraint and not crude vulgarity that crowds wanted. I was one of them.
He isn’t gone, though. Listen as Derek Jeter steps to the plate in Yankee Stadium, and you’ll still hear The Voice of God—“Now batting, the shortstop, number two, Derek Jeter, number two.” Jeter asked that a recording of Bob Sheppard announcing him be played until the end of his career. He couldn’t bear the thought of anyone else doing it.
I can’t blame him.