Good Sheppard

The Baltimore Sun

The last All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium is being played tonight, which means an entire nation gets the opportunity to watch Oakland Athletics pitcher Justin Duchscherer, along with all those other guys. It also provides another chance to say his name without giggling.

Good luck.

The night should provide a memorable experience for all of us, filled with nostalgia and flashbacks and testimonials - plus a nine-inning game if time permits. But one man's absence will stand out like David Wells' gut, leaving a void that no amount of ballot-box stuffing can overcome.

Bob Sheppard won't be sitting behind the microphone as public-address announcer. And it's a crying shame.

OK, there's no crying in baseball, but it stinks anyway.

Sheppard has been the stadium's PA announcer for 57 years. He worked his first game in April 16, 1951, which also coincided with Mickey Mantle's first game. But since October, Sheppard has been in poor health, a malady that often afflicts people who are still working into their late 90s. He has been too ill to do any games this season.

"I am not going to be physically able to perform my duties during the All-Star festivities," Sheppard, 97, told columnist Steve Politi of The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., in a phone interview last week from his Long Island home. "I notified the Yankees that my backup, Jim Hall ... will be filling in for me."

Sheppard made sure to spell out Hall's name - H-A-L-L - twice during the interview. Let's see him nail Duchscherer on the first try.

Hall isn't exactly hauling in rave reviews for his work. One Yankees beat writer refers to him as "the horrendous replacement who tries (and fails) to sound like Sheppard and butchers at least one name per inning," which isn't going to look good on a resume. But to be fair, could anyone fill Sheppard's vocal cords?

At least Hall can't mess up Derek Jeter's name, but only because the Yankees shortstop insisted that a recording of Sheppard be played for his at-bats - and on his voice-mail greeting.

(I'm not sure about that last part, but if I were Jeter, I would have it written in my contract.)

Sheppard's weight dropped from 150 pounds to 105 before he began feeling better. He is uncertain whether he'll return to Yankee Stadium before it closes.

"After 57 years of doing every game at Yankee Stadium, it is deeply disappointing. But I have no control over my well-being," Sheppard said in his interview. "I have faith that God will get me back to the ballpark whenever he's ready for me to get back."

That would be the actual God, not George Steinbrenner, who probably read that quote and starting warming up the car.

Reggie Jackson once referred to Sheppard as "The Voice of God," as opposed to "The straw that stirs the drink," which was already taken. Unfortunately, a capacity crowd won't hear it tonight. And the stadium will seem much emptier because of it.

"I'm not satisfied that I can give a professional performance," Sheppard said. "And if I can't do a professional performance up to my standards, as I have done for the last 20 or 30 years, I will turn it over to my back-up, Jim Hall - H-A-L-L."

And that's not nearly as g-o-o-d.

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