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BASEBALL'S 'VOICE OF GOD'

Bob Sheppard, PA announcer and "the one constant at Yankee Stadium" for 56 years, dies.

NEW YORK - When Bob Sheppard said, "Your attention, please, ladies and gentlemen," people paid attention - for 56 years. Sheppard's dignified intonations at Yankees games were so distinctive, Reggie Jackson called him "the Voice of God."

Mr. Sheppard was one of the major figures in Yankees history without having batted or pitched. He died Sunday at his home in Baldwin, N.Y. He was 99.

Mr. Sheppard had spent most of his time at home after complications from a throat infection prevented him from appearing at Yankees games after 2007.

So he never got to read the lineups at the new stadium. But at Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter's request, a recording of him is played every time he comes to the plate. It's a tribute to the public address announcer who began his career April 17, 1951 - Joe DiMaggio's final opening day and Mickey Mantle's first.

"He was the one constant at Yankee Stadium," Jeter said. "He was part of the experience."

Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, in a statement released by the team, called Mr. Sheppard "a good friend and fine man whose voice set the gold standard for America's sports announcers."

Generations of players said it was a rite of passage to hear their names announced by him.

Before the 1998 World Series against San Diego, future Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn talked about how much he wanted to meet "Mr. Sheppard."

"Coming up to home plate and hearing your name was special," said Lou Piniella, a former Yankees star and manager.

Mr. Sheppard, a native of Queens, came to the job by accident. When he heard the New York Yankees football team was playing an exhibition in the late 1940s, he volunteered to announce it. Branch Rickey, who owned the Brooklyn Dodgers football team, was there and offered Mr. Sheppard a job.

After the Dodgers folded, the football Yankees hired him. Soon after, the baseball Yankees hired him.

"Clear, concise, correct," Mr. Sheppard always said when he was asked to describe his approach.

In a 1999 interview, he said: "I'm not a cheerleader. I don't think a public address announcer should be one. I'm not a circus barker who strings out the announcement of a home team player. That curdles my spirit when I hear it. But then again, that's their style."

His favorite names to say, in order, were 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?"

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