By Jon Lane
The new Yankee Stadium will never sound like the venerable original building. In fact, Yankees games period will never sound the same again.
The New York Times‘ Jack Curry is reporting that Bob Sheppard has decided to retire as the Yankees’ public address announcer, a position he held proudly and executed with dignity since 1951
A bronchial infection forced Sheppard to miss all of last season, including Yankee Stadium’s final game on September 21, and was to keep him home for the new Stadium’s Opener on April 16.
Former Yankees and New York Jets broadcaster Paul Olden will work the Yankees’ exhibition games against the Cubs Friday and Saturday.
“I think Bob just wants to take it easy and no longer have the pressure of, ‘Can he? Will he? Or won’t he?'” Paul Doherty, a friend of Sheppard, told Curry in an e-mail message. “And, at 98, who can blame him?”
I’ll be back later with some memories of Sheppard, often imitated but never duplicated, and a look back at his first game on April 17, 1951.
Where do I begin talking about Bob Sheppard? Well, Peter Abraham reports the Yankees said news of Sheppard’s retirement is news to them and not official, but it’s a safe bet that barring one of the Yankees’ dramatic and theatrical surprise appearances in the mold of Billy Martin and Roger Clemens, you won’t be hearing Sheppard’s voice in the new park. Thus, time to share a few anecdotes on who is forever a Yankees legend.
I could start with April 17, 1951, when he entered the limelight as the voice of Yankee Stadium, but I’ll wait. Instead, I start at Sheppard’s days as a speech professor at St. John’s University. My father-in-law worked at Suffolk County Federal Bank in Babylon, N.Y. The bank offered speech courses to better serve its customers. On the side, Sheppard taught those courses with my father-in-law as one of his students. Well before Sheppard became a Yankees institution, he was a man of class who once said that being a Professor of Speech is far more important than his work as an announcer.
That lineup on 4/17/51, Opening Day against the Red Sox, included future Hall of Famers Phil Rizzuto, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio and Yogi Berra. The Yankees defeated who years later would become their bitter rivals, 5-0, on the only day when DiMaggio and Mantle shared an Opening Day outfield.
I first met Sheppard in the Yankees dugout before Game 1 of the 1997 Division Series. I knew who he was (who didn’t?) but it was the first time I was able to place a face to Yankee Stadium’s booming, dignified and impeccable “Voice of God.” He greeted me as “young fella” and although he wasn’t as open to the media at that time — he politely declined an interview request about the playoff experience at Yankee Stadium — we spent about 10-15 minutes talking about the Yankees and their history. It was the first day he met me, yet were were talking like old chaps at the watering hole after a day’s work.
In subsequent years I ran into Sheppard either in the Stadium cafeteria – he’d be making a cup of Joe before heading up to his office — or more likely waiting for the elevator. On days I wasn’t on a tight deadline, I’d head for the clubhouse with less than two outs in the ninth inning and the game in hand to avoid the mass exodus from reporters and fans alike. Sheppard would be there too, except he’d be ready to bolt straight for the parking lot, into his car and on the highway back to Baldwin, N.Y. (the south shore of Long Island). Every hello was the same: with a warm, wide smile, quick thoughts on the game and pleasantries until next time.
Earlier I wrote Sheppard was one often imitated but never duplicated, which is one of fame’s highest honors. Still, a couple tried. One was Reggie Jackson, who after a game was making small talk with reporters until breaking into his best routine.
Another was Derek Jeter. The captain’s was not as good as Reggie’s but holds Sheppard in high enough regard that he had his ntroduction recorded on tape before his at-bats. For all of last season, every time Jeter walked to the batter’s box, you’d hear Sheppard’s voice ring, “Now batting for the Yankees, Number 2, De-rek Je-ter.”
It’ll be interesting to hear some of the Yankees’ takes on Sheppard’s retirement. Jeter, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, Alex Rodriguez and others all had their name called by Sheppard, like so many of the game’s greats, as well as those just passing through. Alas, with all due respect to Paul Olden or whomever is chosen to sit in Sheppard’s chair, Posada said it best in an interview last March.
“Yankee Stadium is Bob Sheppard.”
There will never be another.
By Jon Lane
The Yankees play the third of a four-game homestand this afternoon when they welcome the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies. Joba Chamberlain is back on the mound to face off against Kyle Kendrick.
Chamberlain looked sharp his last time out, throwing three innings of one-run ball with no walks and three strikeouts to bounce back from a terrible start to the Grapefruit season. But even though Phil Hughes produced his first bad start of the spring Saturday in Bradenton (two hits — both solo home runs — three walks, two strikeouts in three innings), Hughes led our homepage poll as of 11 a.m. by a slim 932-895 that asks whether he or Chamberlain should be the Yankees’ fifth starter.
Will another strong performance from Chamberlain assuage more concerns that he’s better off in the bullpen? We’ll have this poll up one more day, so we’ll see where you stand by this time tomorrow morning. Don’t forget to also sound off on our message boards about this and other topics surrounding the Yankees.
Brett Gardner CF
Cody Ransom 3B
Nick Swisher 1B
Hideki Matsui DH
Xavier Nady RF
Jose Molina C
Angel Berroa 2B
Todd Linden LF
Eduardo Nunez SS
Pitching after Chamberlain:
Brian Bruney (Today’s Quick Cut and in my view the Yankees’ best choice to set up Mariano Rivera)
Kei Igawa (Your 2009 New York Yankees fifth starter — insert sarcasm wherever you prefer)
Dave Robertson (Fighting for a spot in the front end of the bullpen)
Robinson Cano (right shoulder tendinitis) and Damaso Marte (left shoulder inflammation) will have MRIs done today and be examined by team physician Chris Ahmad. Brian Cashman referred to these injuries as “yellow flags” and hopes rest and recovery will do the trick. Then again, Jorge Posada’s shoulder was no big deal and Alex Rodriguez was supposed to only have a cyst drained. Historically, the Yankees are overly cautious when it comes to diagnosing injuries, and rightfully so.
UPDATE: Each MRI revealed no structural damage. Cano has bursitis and Marte inflammation. According to The Journal News, Cano will DH or pinch hit before returning to full-time action on Friday, while it’s unknown when Marte will pitch again.
Three years ago, George Steinbrenner denounced the World Baseball Classic, but Cashman took the high road despite seeing two of his players return from the competition nicked up.
“You have some great storylines going on,” Cashman said. “It doesn’t mean it’s not difficult. Of course we’d love to have our entire team here together, working every day.”
Seeing Posada catch four innings on Sunday was reassuring. Although his throwing arm wasn’t tested, it was another big step forward. Next for Posada is catching CC Sabathia Tuesday against the Pirates, the same night Mariano Rivera will make his spring debut. The YES Network will air these two significant steps as part of its live telecast beginning at 7 p.m.
Ian Kennedy was optioned to Triple-A on Sunday, a blip on the radar, but notable considering he remains a vital part of the Yankees’ future. Cashman predicted “a big year” for the right-hander, but this shows you how much further both Hughes and Chamberlain are ahead of the team’s first-round pick (21st overall) in 2006. That said, Kennedy is 24 years old and unless the Yankees are blown away (or desperate) at the July trade deadline, there’s no reason to cut the cord.
Reliever Mark Melancon was also among eight players reassigned to the Minor League camp. Looking for another Joba Version 2007 or possibly Rivera’s successor? Melancon is your man.
1:28 p.m. Following a four-pitch leadoff walk to Eric Bruntlett, Chamberlain whiffed Jason Donald on three pitches and caught Ryan Howard looking to strand Bruntlett at second base.
1:47 p.m. Another good inning for Chamberlain, who retires the first two batters and survives Geoff Jenkins’ two-out double to escape the second unscathed.
2:06 p.m. Another scoreless inning for Chamberlain, though he had some help when Jose Molina gunned down Bruntlett trying to steal second base. Joba also hit the next batter (Donald), but showed some mettle. This, folks, is a very good sign being that it’s a Spring Training game in which Chamberlain is experimenting with different pitches and techniques while still working his arm into season shape.
2:22 p.m. The line on Joba Chamberlain: three innings pitched, two hits, no runs, no walks, three strikeouts, one hit batsman. He threw 48 pitches, 27 for strikes. Yankees lead, 2-0.
Tonight’s lineup vs. Reds (YES HD, 7 p.m.)
Brett Gardner CF
Johnny Damon LF
Xavier Nady RF
Hideki Matsui DH
Cody Ransom 3B
Jose Molina C
Juan Miranda 1B
Angel Berroa SS
Ramiro Pena 2B
Some random takes about the Yankees and around the league:
- Maybe the idea of Brett Gardner as the Yankees’ everyday center fielder is not so crazy after all, writes John Harper. The Yankees’ Brett the Jet, is batting .381 (6-for-21) with a team-leading three home runs, four RBIs, six runs scored and two stolen bases in eight games. Conversely, Melky Cabrera is batting .278 with two homers and two runs scored. Of course, there remains a ton of time in Spring Training, and Gardner may easily flame out by April, but here and now he provides elements the Yankees need and Joe Girardi loves: hustle, guts and grit.
- Anthony McCarron is following Francisco Cervelli’s ride with Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic, which knocked Canada out of the tournament and plays tonight in an elimination game.Cervelli received nice compliments from hitting coach Mike Piazza. Yet I still wonder why he chose to play in the tournament instead of trying to make a lasting impression on the Yankees. Jorge Posada’s shoulder issues won’t have closure until he proves he can resume the full responsibility of a starting catcher. Besides, he turns 38 in August and his contract runs out after the 2011 season. It’s never too early to start thinking about the future. It’s not Jose Molina and it may not be Jesus Montero.
- Incidentally, I’m enjoying the WBC. And I’m now a fan of Juan Carlos Sulbaran. Pitching for the Netherlands, the Reds’ 19-year-old Single-A prospect came on in the sixth and whiffed Ivan Rodriguez on three nasty pitches. Later, Sulbaran got Carlos Beltran to ground out with the bases loaded on a 3-2 pitch. It’s do or die for the upstart Dutch team tonight when they face a Dominican Republic group out for revenge, but win or lose, Sulbaran will be around for a long time. Years from now, a Reds rotation of Sulbaran, Johnny Cueto, Edison Volquez and Homer Bailey will be scary good.
- Don’t look now, but Angel Berroa is 9-for-18 with two homers and five RBIs in eight games. Cody Ransom is 6-for-20 (.300) with an RBI in eight games. Berroa, though, has played all of one game at third base (in 2007) and has hit no higher than .270 since being named AL Rookie of the Year in 2003. Ransom’s the guy to play third in Alex Rodriguez’s absence. He’s more versatile and reliable for the long haul.
By Glenn Giangrande
Let me start by saying Hideki Matsui has been the consummate professional in pinstripes and I believe he has given the Yankees everything he possibly could during his tenure, which goes far beyond what he’s done solely on the ball field.
Now that I’ve said that, I’m saying it’s time to cut the cord with him.
Matsui appears to be a major albatross on this roster. It is pretty well known that he will be little more than a DH this season given his knee problems and he’ll turn 35 in June. I’m not going to say his power is officially in decline just yet because he turned in a very solid .285-25-103-100 season the last time he was healthy in ’07, but at his age and with his health problems, Godzilla might be at the tipping point.
My main concerns actually have more to do with players around Matsui than Matsui himself. Jorge Posada has already had one setback this spring in his return from shoulder surgery, and given his age\health issue, he will probably need more than a few at-bats as the DH to keep him fresh for his time behind the plate. Johnny Damon will need the occasional day off from left field as well. Joe Girardi is said to be a huge fan of Nick Swisher, so if he happens to lose the right field battle with Xavier Nady, he and his positive clubhouse presence can slot right into the DH position. It just seems like a number of players offer more to the Yankees than Matsui does right now.
Baseball is a business though, and maybe the Yankees think that dealing Matsui would hurt their brand in Japan. I say their flag has already been planted firmly enough there. They’d probably have to eat a fair amount of his remaining $13 million salary, maybe half of it. At this time though, dealing Matsui might be addition by subtraction when talking solely about roster makeup, and isn’t that what matters when a World Championship is the main goal?
By Jon Lane
It’s been said that March comes in like a lion. This beast is the king of the jungle. While the Yankees prep for another Spring Training game in sunny Florida, the New York metropolitan area is being belted with up to 14 inches of snow. Right now the temperature is 25 degrees and will top out at 26. In Tampa it’s 50 with an expected high of 59.
“Winter Wonderland” is a pop standard written in 1934 by Felix Bernard (composer) and Richard B. Smith (lyricist). That duo obviously had a bit too much to drink. Memo to Jack Frost: The harder you hit, the more we look forward to spring, summer and baseball that much more.
The Yankees travel to Kissimmee (Disney World) to play the Houston Astros at 2-3 on the Grapefruit season. Peter Abraham posted today’s lineups and reports that CC Sabathia will throw roughly 25 pitches in a simulated game.
Johnny Damon LF
Melky Cabrera CF
Nick Swisher RF
Jorge Posada DH
Cody Ransom SS
Jose Molina C
Juan Miranda 1B
Angel Berroa 2B
Doug Bernier 3B
The main story is Chien-Ming Wang pitching in his first game since he tore a ligament and tendon in his right foot while running the bases against the Astros last June. Wang has been making fine progress and is lined up to be the Yankees’ No. 2 starter between Sabathia and A.J. Burnett. Not a bad choice. He won a combined 38 games in 2006 and ’07 (19 each).
Over the weekend, Joba Chamberlain experimented with a four-seam fastball on Saturday. Jorge Posada was a late scratch from that game as a precaution with tightness in that surgically-repaired right shoulder, but will play long toss before today’s game. Lastly, Alex Rodriguez met with officials from Major League Baseball’s Department of Investigations and Labor Relations Department to discuss his past steroid use. A statement released by MLB deemed A-Rod “cooperative” before he left to join the the Dominican Republic team of the World Baseball Classic. Robinson Cano and Damaso Marte joined A-Rod, Francisco Cervelli will play for Italy, and Derek Jeter for the United States.
I’ll be back later with random observations via the Astros radio broadcast.
By Jon Lane
A quick thank you to everyone who’s shared their comments, opinions and observations. Joe and I are appreciative of the amount of feedback already with this endeavor not even a week old. It’s great to be a part of the community, and trust us when we say a plethora of fun and creative projects are on tap.
One other quick note: Steven Goldman’s latest Pinstriped Bible entry is a must-read. He and non-roster invitee Jason Johnson share something in common that puts life back in its proper pecking order.
The Yankees enjoyed a break in the monotony on Monday when Joe Girardi arranged a pool tournament to build team camaraderie. Before I get into the positive aftereffects, a few baseball-related news and notes with the first Spring Training game one day away:
Jorge Posada made 15 throws from distances as far as 220 feet on Sunday. He’s targeting being behind the plate Opening Day on April 6 and insists he’ll catch 110-120 games.
“It’s night and day,” Posada said. “Last year, I couldn’t do the things that I’m doing right now.”
Posada will also receive a community award for his work with the Jorge Posada Foundation, which provides support to families with children affected by Craniosynostosis, from the Ted Williams Museum in St. Petersburg, Fla., during a dinner at Tropicana Field to benefit the Children’s Dreamfund. He deserves it. This is a player who operates on talent, heart and guts, and extends those intangibles to charitable organizations.
Mariano Rivera’s surgically-repaired right shoulder is feeling great. He told reporters he’s building muscle while throwing and playing long toss, and that it’s getting better every day. This is coming from, in my book, the greatest closer of all time and an absolutely indispensible member of the Yankees who is showing no signs of slowing down. He’s yet to throw off a mound, but it never takes too long a time for him to be ready for a new season.
Rivera, by the way, won two titles in Girardi’s First Annual World Championship of Pool, an idea that was embraced by the Yankees and the media. Girardi took some jabs last season for showing a Type-A personality, but working with him while he was a YES talent and ghostwriting a few of his columns, I found him bright, friendly and interesting, and his heart has always been in the right place. The experiences he had in Florida and last year in New York will only help take his overall game to the next level.
We saw a different side of Girardi before he canceled practice at Steinbrenner Field and took his players to a billiards bonding expedition, writes Ken Davidoff.
Monday was so long GI Joe. Hello Gentle Joe, writes Sweeny Murti.
Giants coach Tom Coughlin was impressed with Girardi’s idea to build team unity through pool, writes George King.
By Jon Lane