Tales from Sheppard’s life in baseball

Bob Reads a Poem

Although Bob Sheppard didn’t use the word “retired” when he spoke about his career earlier this week. the announcement on Thanksgiving that he is won’t be coming back the PA booth at Yankee Stadium put a quiet cap on an excellent career. The Yanks had already toasted Bob Sheppard; they held a Bob Sheppard Day in May of 2000 and gave him a plaque in Monument Park then. But now an era of baseball is officially over.

Through thick and thin, Sheppard was the Yanks’ PA man. He saw Mickey Mantle’s rise and fall, Reggie Jackson and Billy Martin, the death of Thurmon Munson, some memorably bad Yankee teams in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and the arrival of Derek Jeter and a second golden age. He’s seen more players pass through the stadium that just about anyone else and has pronounced, in that Voice of God, more baseball players than I could ever remember.

He certainly had his way with names too. Shigetoshi Haegawa never sounded better than when Bob would intone it at the Stadium, and we know Derek Jeter loved hearing the man’s voice. Sheppard lives on in a recording announcing the Yanks’ short stop every game.

But beyond his voice, Sheppard lived a life in baseball. By the end, he had announced around 4500 games and over 100 playoff games. He had, quite literally, seen it all, and in an amusing piece by Buster Olney about Bob’s eagerness to leave at the end of the game, you get the sense that perhaps he had sometimes seen enough:

On most game days in the four years I covered the Yankees, from 1998 to 2001, I would wind up at the back of the press box with Bob and Eddie Layton, the team’s former organist, whenever a game was one out from its end. I usually filed the first draft of a game story with the editors at The New York Times by the top of the ninth inning, and because I wanted to make sure I was on the first elevator down to the basement level, I’d move from the front row of the press box to the back, closer to the door. Bob and Eddie always wanted to be on that elevator, too, because they wanted to beat the crowd out of Yankee Stadium.

So we would wait for the final pitch. If somebody reached base with two outs in the ninth, Bob took the 10 steps or so back to his P.A. booth to announce the next hitter and then rejoined us at the back of the press box.

When the final out was actually registered, it was as though a starting gun went off for the three of us: We would race toward the elevator, at varying speeds. But Bob was more efficient than Eddie and I, actually. He would make his move at the crack of the bat that lifted a fly to the outfield, for example, and would assume that somebody would catch the ball. If the ball fell, I guess he figured the crowd’s reaction would tell him so, and he would just backtrack.

Anyway, time after time, Bob would be eight or 10 steps ahead of me as we took off for the elevator, moving with (and I’m absolutely not exaggerating here) remarkable speed for someone who was about 90 years old at the time. He would hold a book in the crook of his arm, like a football. The elevator operater waited for him, closing the doors as soon as he and Eddie (and, as it turned out, a dopey sports writer) stepped on.

I remember how Bob’s PA duties would sometimes taper off by the end of the game. He would only announce last names or sometimes simply not announce a player at all. I always just assumed he was sitting there engrossed in a book and ignoring the game. Olney’s tale drives home that point.

We’ll miss Bob at Yankee Stadium. In fact, we have for the last two years. It just doesn’t sound the same without him. I wonder though if Mr. Sheppard will miss the Stadium and the game experience. After all, it became a job just as we all have jobs, and who really looks forward to doing a repetitive job after the 4500th time anyway?

Football Open Thread

The Giants played on Turkey Day, but the Jets are taking on the Panthers at home at 1pm. Talk about any and all of the games here.

No, Will, the Yankees don’t need Holliday

Back in my college days, Sunday highlighted the week. After three straight days of partying in which I probably drank a keg of Natty Light on my own, I’d sleep until noon, throw on a pot of coffee, and read the Sunday sports columns. For some reason, I actually admired them back then. How naive we are in college. I eventually stopped reading those guys, because they brought nothing insightful to the table. In their stead, I frequented Deadspin, thinking Will Leitch was different. Again, I was naive.

Leitch has since left Deadspin for New York magazine. He still writes in the same Gawker Media style but his subject matter more resembles Mike Lupica than Drew Magary. His latest column deals with the Yankees and Matt Holliday, and he states in no uncertain terms that the Yankees need him. Yes, need. If only Brian Cashman had Leitch on speed dial.

It’s not that Leitch makes a terrible case. Holliday would look “downright gorgeous batting fifth, behind A-Rod.” There’s no doubt that Holliday would make the Yankees lineup stronger in 2010. Leitch makes that case clear, but in doing so he neglects to note the negatives of signing a player to a multiyear contract. In Holliday’s case, I believe the negatives outweigh the positives.

Leitch’s basic argument is that the Yankees should forget sentimentality and let Damon and Matsui walk. They’re older players, and the money used on them could go towards Holliday. The problem, unacknowledged by Leitch, is that both Damon and Matsui figure to land short-term deals, while the Yankees would almost certainly have to commit five years to Holliday. At, say, $18 million per season, that puts the Yankees commitments at over $110 million for 2013, plus Derek Jeter at presumably another $20 million.

Even worse, that $130 million would be spread among just six players: Jeter, Holliday, CC Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixeira. If the Yankees intend to keep their payroll around $200 million for the next few years — and there’s little indication that they plan to raise it — that would mean just $70 million for the other 19 players on the roster. That will be tough with both Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes in their third and final arbitration years. If those two pan out, the Yankees could then have over $150 million committed to just eight players.

Towards the end of his unconvincing argument, Leitch wonders, “If you’re not paying for someone like Holliday, why do you have the money?” The answer, of course, is to pay A-Rod, Sabathia, Jeter, Teixeira, Burnet, Rivera, Posada, Cano, Swisher, and Marte, all of whom are under contract for 2010, and who make a combined $165 million. Again, unless the Yankees commit to spending more than $200 million on payroll — not just in 2010, but for many years down the road — adding Holliday to that ledger is not responsible. It is simply too much money committed to too few players.

As an idea, I love Hallday playing left for the Yankees. Practically speaking, I can’t see it happening. He’s a good player, maybe a great player, but the Yankees can’t just sign every good to great player who hits the market. They made three huge commitments last off-season, knowing that it would hinder their future spending. But they saw the three guys they wanted and pounced. That limits their flexibility this off-season. Perhaps in another off-season, without so many dollars committed to future payrolls, the Yanks would pounce on Holliday. But in the winter of 2009-2010, it doesn’t appear that the Yankees have the room.

Gawker: Jeter to be named SI’s Sportsman of the Year

In the grand scheme of sports, winning Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year is but a small achievement. It carries with it a magazine cover, a glowing profile and not much else. Still, in the 55-year history of the award, no member of the New York Yankees has won it. According to a report on Gawker, that should change tomorrow when the magazine reveals the 2009 winner. The media blog reports that Derek Jeter will earn the honors this year. He’ll beat out teammate CC Sabathia, among others. We don’t really have to make a case for Derek; any Yankee fan knows that the Yankee Captain is more than deserving of the honor. I’m sure he likes the fifth World Series ring more than he will yet another SI cover though.

A thread open like no other

You guys still chowin’ down on leftovers? I finished off my last plate’s worth at lunch, so sadly the Thanksgiving experience is all over for me. For shame. Just another 363 days until my favorite holiday comes around again.

Anyway, it’s a slow night around these parts, but go ahead and use this as your open thread. The only local team in action are the Rangers, who are taking on Sidney Crosby in Pittsburgh. Go ahead and talk about whatever you want, just be cool.

A Black — and pinstripe blue — Friday

We don’t like to rag on the Mets too often around here. In baseball, karma finds a way to bite you. But I enjoyed Ken Belson’s baseball-focused take on Black Friday. During yesterday’s crazy shopping day, the Yankee Clubhouse Store was packed while the Mets’ store further east along 42nd St. was a ghost town. As fans spent hundreds of dollars on Hideki Matsui World Series MVP gear and little on the Mets’ new throwback uniforms, Yankee fans basked in the glow of being on top. As Aoi Niwa, a Yankee fan from Portland, Oregon, said to Belson, “It’s a little pricey, but it’s worth it.”

Sabathia beloved in his former hometown

Even though he was a 28-year-old ace on the free agent market, a rarity for sure, only the Yankees and the Brewers bid for CC Sabathia‘s services last winter. Perhaps teams were scared by the Yankees’ imposing six-year, $140 million opening offer, and figured they couldn’t afford Sabathia. There was still hope, though, that he’d take a discount to play for another team. The Brewers took a shot with their five-year, $100 million offer, but there was a greater fear that the hometown team would swoop in with an offer.

Despite pitching across the country in Cleveland for most of his career, Sabathia has remained active in his hometown of Vallejo, California, about 30 miles northwest of San Francisco. Because of his family and community ties, the connection to the Giants was inevitable. Who wouldn’t want to pitch in front of their hometown crowd? But the Giants never made a serious offer, and the Yankees increased theirs. Sabathia opted to play on the opposite coast.

The residents of Vallejo aren’t spiteful, though. Sure, they’d love to see Sabathia pitching in black and orange, but they’re happy for his success no matter where he pitches. Carolyn Jones of the San Francisco Chronicle captures the town’s love for Sabathia.

“Everybody here loves CC,” said Tony Hodges, president of North Vallejo Little League, where Sabathia learned to play baseball. “His smile, his leadership – it’s infectious. He can ride around here and he’ll never get hassled.”

The article describes CC’s involvement over Thanksgiving weekend. Vallejo, like many towns in California, is bankrupt. Sabathia is doing his part to help raise money for programs that, out of necessity, the town had to cut. The town will honor him tonight at the Mayor’s Image dinner.

Now (as Ben noted to me earlier), if only the residents of Vallejo can convince Sabathia to not opt out of his contract…