Bob Sheppard & George Steinbrenner Passing Marks New Era for NY Yankees

“It was a bad time for the Empire” — Diagoro, “Lone Wolf & Cub”

On Sunday, Bob Sheppard, the voice of the Yankees for over 50 years, passed away at the age of 99. I remember reading the statement which was attributed to George Steinbrenner and thinking ‘man he didn’t say all that he’s sick.’

Yesterday morning, The Boss passed away after suffering what is being called a massive heart attack.

I saw Steinbrenner at the stadium on opening day — on the Jumbotron of course — bundled up and looking sickly. A shadow of the brash, get-it-done owner I’d grown up watching rant and rave on the news. I thought the same thing when they won the World Series and the cameras showed him.

This was a shadow of the man who hired and fired Billy Martin five times, called Hideki Irabu a “Fat toad,” traveled to woo Reggie Jackson to the Yankees in person and provided fodder for many a Seinfeld episode just about every time he spoke publicly.

After redefining New York Sports, Steinbrenner succumbed to the things every man does, age, sickness, and the frailty of just being human but what he did with his time was extraordinary.

After being turned down in his bid to purchase his hometown team, the Cleveland Indians (I swear that city STAYS losing), Steinbrenner bought the New York Yankees in 1973 from CBS. The once proud team was on the downturn and few thought a guy who had been in the shipping business could turn it around. In his thirty-seven years of ownership, the Yankees won seven titles-an average of one every five years.

While there were many rough spots —the Bronx Zoo, the 80s, the early 90s— one could never say that Steinbrenner didn’t want to win and didn’t do as much as humanly possible to make sure his team grabbed victory. He revolutionized how free agents were acquired, spearheaded initiatives that would change the course of sports marketing and broadcasting and along the way turned a $8.7 million dollar investment into the no. 4 sports franchise on the planet. Not bad for someone who sometimes seemed like the devil incarnate.

As for Bob Sheppard, I first learned about him as a 6-year-old kid on my first trip to Yankee Stadium. I remember hearing the most booming voice ever announcing that we should all stand for the “Pledge of Allegiance.” I thought God was talking to us (I was six! Sue me!!) and ran around imitating that voice pretty much up until now.

All weekend as people have shared their thoughts on Sheppard’s passing, there was one prevailing sentiment. You hadn’t made it in the big leagues until he said your name as you came up to bat.

I totally agree with this and as a Yankee fan it has saddened me over the past couple of years not to hear his voice booming at the All Star Game in ’08, or at the new stadium, or when they won the World Series last year. Sheppard retired in 2007 and the stadium hasn’t sounded right since. Luckily, we have Derek Jeter who never stopped using Sheppard to announce his name and says he will do so until the end of his career. Don’t ever lose that file. For many, that will be their only chance to hear the voice many of us grew up on.

Rest in peace gents.

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