Bob Sheppard's funeral: a majestic voice stilled
Bob Sheppard considered himself a speech teacher more than a public address announcer, enlightening students about the importance of diction and elocution.
So imagine the pressure of speaking at his funeral.
''It was the most nervous I've ever been,'' said Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, a man who has worked for George Steinbrenner and watched his teams play in the World Series.
At his beloved St. Christopher's Church on Long Island on Thursday, Sheppard was remembered for his ''distinguished and dignified voice,'' as Giants owner John Mara put it. Sheppard, who introduced players at Yankee Stadium for more than half a century, died Sunday at 99.
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was among the estimated 900 mourners. Cashman, Mara and former St. John's basketball coach Lou Carnesecca gave eulogies. While Sheppard was best known for providing the sonorous soundtrack to Yankees games, his other employers included the NFL's Giants and his St. John's alma mater.
Mara recalled how Phil Rizzuto once asked Sheppard on TV during a rain delay for his fondest Yankee Stadium moment.
''Much to The Scooter's dismay, Bob replied, 'The day Summerall kicked the field goal in the snow to beat Cleveland in 1958,''' Mara said.
Sheppard never had a contract in his 50 years with the Giants; he and the late Wellington Mara needed only a handshake.
Sheppard's coffin, draped in an American flag, was carried into the church on a gray morning. During the service, two fire trucks hoisted a giant flag opposite the entrance to St. Christopher's. A large Yankees banner was unfurled from one of the vehicles.
Mara believes Sheppard belongs in the baseball and football halls of fame.
''George Steinbrenner was a little intimidated by Bob, probably the only person on the planet because George was always in search of perfection, and Bob was perfect,'' Cashman said after the service.
Fans in Yankees jerseys and T-shirts gathered outside the church as the service was broadcast over loudspeakers. Media were not allowed inside. One man held a sign that read, ''Long Live the Voice.''
Reggie Jackson dubbed him ''The Voice of God,'' though Sheppard preferred to avoid such bluster.
''He never could understand how anyone would want his autograph,'' his oldest son, Paul, said.
He loved to tell stories about when he wasn't perfect, like the halftime of a chilly Army-Navy football game when he watched John F. Kennedy walk across the field. Not aware his microphone was on, Sheppard blurted out, ''The president doesn't have a topcoat.''
Before Sunday Yankees game, Sheppard would do readings at the team's Mass. The only problem, Cashman said, was ''there was never a person in that room who was going to volunteer to take his place.''
Carnesecca marveled at Sheppard's ''rare ability to paint such beautiful pictures.'' He would tell the coach about St. John's famed ''Wonder Five'' basketball teams: ''Lou, they were so good when they had the ball you wouldn't see the ball for a month.''
Sheppard was a quarterback and first baseman for St. John's and went on to teach speech at the university.
''I wish,'' Carnesecca said, ''I would've been fortunate enough to be one of his students.''