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Shepard honored at Yankee Stadium

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NEW YORK (AP) — Of course Bob Sheppard wasn't speechless.

Fifty years and two weeks after becoming the Yankees' public address announcer, the ``Voice of God'' was honored at Bob Sheppard Day on Sunday, and he was shocked to learn that name-calling does get you somewhere: Yankee Stadium's Monument Park.

``Fifty years seems like a long time,'' Sheppard intoned in his slow, deep voice, ``but in April of next year, April 2001, I shall be planning to be back for the next 50 years as the Yankees' public address announcer.''

Sheppard, who won't divulge his age but is thought to be around 80, took over on April 17, 1951, in a game against Boston that included Hall of Famers Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Lou Boudreau, Johnny Mize and Phil Rizzuto.

He's also been the announcer for the NFL's New York Giants since 1956, and outlasted several teams he's spoken for, including the New York Stars of the World Football League and the Cosmos of the North American Soccer League. In the early days of the American Football League, he announced for the New York Titans.

``He just fits with the Stadium. He belongs here,'' Yankees manager Joe Torre said.

While many baseball players say hearing Sheppard announcing their names finally convinces them they are in the major leagues, he downplayed his significance.

``My only quality is longevity,'' he said.

He becomes the 22nd person honored in Monument Park, beyond the left-field fence. After Sheppard received a 30-second standing ovation, retired CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite read the plaque to the crowd of 52,559. Among those on the field for the ceremonies were Berra, Don Larsen and Reggie Jackson.

``His clear, concise and correct vocal style has announced the names of hundreds of players — both unfamiliar and legendary — with equal divine reverence, making him as synonymous with Yankee Stadium as the copper facade and Monument Park,'' the plaque says.

His favorite names to announce, in order, have been Mickey Mantle, Shigetoshi Hasegawa, Salome Barojas, Jose Valdivielso and Alvaro Espinoza. He preferred the names of Latin players.

``Anglo-Saxon names are not very euphonious,'' he said. ``What can I do with Steve Sax? What can I do with Mickey Klutts? I have more fun with She-ge-TOE-shi, Ha-se-GA-wah.''

His most memorable day was Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series. He also thinks of an afternoon at Fenway Park in the early 1980s, when Sherm Feller, the Red Sox announcer from 1966-93, asked him to do a guest inning.

Jackson, then with the California Angels, was the first batter up.

``When I said: `The outfielder, number 44, Reggie Jackson, number 44,' he dropped his bat as if to say, `Am I in the Bronx or am I in Boston, and who is that?'' Sheppard recalled.

He has announced more than 4,000 games, including 84 in the postseason. Bob Casey, the Twins' announcer since the franchise moved to Minnesota in 1961, is second in longevity with more than 3,000.

Sheppard, who said he has never missed more than two games in a season, would have liked to announce readings at the Papal Masses in Yankee Stadium in 1965 and '79. Actress Helen Hayes took over the mike.

``I stepped aside, even though I wasn't asked,'' Sheppard said.

His wife Mary and four children accompanied him for the ceremonies and he even was given the day off, watching the 7-6 loss to Baltimore with his family from a luxury suite. While Sheppard read the pregame lineups, Jim Hall, his backup for 25 years, took over for the game.

Sheppard's microphone is being sent to the Hall of Fame after this season. In the 27-plus seasons since George Steinbrenner bought the Yankees, Sheppard has remained the most visible — audible? — constant.

``This is amazing,'' he said of the owner. ``He has never offered one criticism or one suggestion.''

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