My Father, who turns 70 this year, is a Yankees fan. Who can blame him? As a boy, he watched Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Phil Rizzuto, and later Roger Maris, and Whitey Ford do what they did better than anyone else; play baseball. I, on the other hand, have not had much love for the Bronx Bombers outside of a shared sense of nostalgia to an era gone, to players who have become myth and legend and certainly, many of those men wore the pinstripes. The Yankees remain a confusing part of our national past time. The current day Yanks seem to be all glitz and New Yorkerwood glamor. But, they can play the game. Their logo is a fashion symbol as much as a professional sports logo. But, they can play the game. They buy championships. But, they can play the game.
Here it is, the billboard truth: They give their city joy. The rest of us live in Mudville.
A sense of self, must be at least partially, based on an opposite. I am not that, so therefore, I am this. For many a baseball fan, that is a Yankee. It is important to remember though that the need for a nemesis, an arch-rival, a supervillain, is a particularly powerful thing, and for that at least, we must render unto Caesar.
So, here we are at the All-Star break thinking about two of the great men of baseball. Mr. George Steinbrenner (July 4, 1930 – July 13, 2010), and Mr. Bob Sheppard (October 20, 1910– July 11, 2010). Two Yankees who passed within 48 hours of each other.
Bob Sheppard announced his first game on April 17th, 1951. For that game he announced the names of Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantel, and Phil Rizzuto, my Dad would have been 11. The Yankees were, of course, playing the Boston Red Sox, so he also got to announce Bobby Doerr, and Ted Williams. For many, Sheppard was the voice of a lifetime. I have a particular love of a great voice, with a special fondness for the baseball announcer. The personal cadences, the catch phrases, the oblique references that speak to sport as well as life. Sheppard has a special place in baseball lore by being the bridge of that golden era of shared nostalgia, where we all could cheer the Mantle – Maris race, to these modern times filled with roids and over paid players and wannabe movie stars (and that’s just one guy).
It’s been a bad year for the PA with Detroit Tiger great Ernie Harwell passing away in May and I can’t help but worry about our loss. These timeless voices of the game who filled in the gaps, soundtracked our summers, and connected us to something larger then simply a sport are not easily replaced. When a batter strikes out looking, I still say “and he stood there like a house by the side of the road and watched it go by.” And I hope that when I die and go to heaven, as Bob Sheppard’s son said, I’ll hear the voice of Yankee Stadium say as I enter through those pearlies, “Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to heaven.”