Results tagged ‘ Bob Sheppard ’

Here’s a number you’ll never forget, Bernie

In terms of profile and temperament, Bernie Williams and New York would not seem a comfortable fit. The city that never sleeps was the incubator that gave the culture such over-the-top performers from Cagney to Streisand to DeNiro, not to mention such flamboyant out-of-town athletes who conquered the Big Apple’s hard core, from Dempsey to Mantle to Namath.

But Bernie Williams? Bob Sheppard, the late majestic voice of Yankee Stadium, noted that even the syllables of Williams’ name failed to conjure up images of greatness. Except for his Puerto Rican heritage, which he shared with many Bronx residents, Williams did not appear to have much in common with the population of the borough that the Yankees call home which traditionally has revered players who thrive on being the center of attention.

Towards the end of the 2005 season when his tenure with the Yankees was drawing to a close, fans at the Stadium finally stood up and took notice at Williams on a regular basis with standing ovations before and after each of his plate appearances. Bernie Williams was at center stage at last. The outpouring of affection was a belated tribute by Yankees fans for all Williams meant to the franchise in one of the most significant periods of its glorious history.

And the penultimate experience occurs Sunday night when a packed Stadium will shower Williams with an abundance of affection as the Yankees will honor him with a plaque in Monument Park and officially retire his uniform No. 51. No player has worn that number since Williams’ last season 10 years ago, even the two who had worn it with distinction in Seattle, Randy Johnson and Ichiro Suzuki. After coming to the Yankees in trades from the Mariners, Johnson wore No. 41 and Suzuki No. 31.

Bernie Williams'  No. 51 joins Monument Park retirement list.

Bernie Williams’ No. 51 joins Monument Park retirement list.

While other teammates drew greater cheers and headlines over the years, Williams was the calming center of a team that went from spit to shinola in the 1990’s to complete a resounding history of baseball in the Bronx. The quiet, contemplative, switch-hitting center fielder batted cleanup in lineups that produced four World Series championships, including three in a row, over the last five years of the 20th century and the first year of the 21st.

Of all the players who took part in the Yankees’ extraordinary run during that period, Williams was the only one who was there when it all began, when the club started to make strides toward decency in 1992 and improved to such an extent that by the middle of the decade was on the verge of yet another dynastic era.

Yes, that Bernie Williams, whose way with a guitar rivaled that of his handling of bat and glove. Williams’ love of the guitar was so strong that he was just as much in awe of meeting Les Paul and Paul McCartney as he was shaking hands with Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra. Yet it is in the latter’s company that Williams will always hold a special place in Yankees lore.

It is a past as eventful as any in franchise history. Williams’ rankings on the Yankees’ career lists include third in doubles (449), singles (1,545) and intentional walks (97); fourth in at-bats (7,869); fifth in plate appearances (9,053), hits (2,336), bases on balls (1,069), times on base (3,444) and sacrifice flies( 64); sixth in games (2,076), total bases (3,756), extra-base hits (791) and runs (1,366) and seventh in home runs (287) and runs batted in (1,257). He is one of only 10 players who played 16 or more seasons only with the Yankees. The others are Lou Gehrig, Bill Dickey, Frankie Crosetti, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter.

Not bad for an unassuming man who was often the cruel butt of jokes by veteran teammates when he came into the majors in 1991. “Bambi” was the nickname Mel Hall, Steve Sax, Jesse Barfield and others hung on Williams, a suggestion that his non-confrontational demeanor and love for classical guitar music somehow made him unfit for the rigors of professional sports.

As it turned out, Williams not only turned the other cheek but also left the gigglers in the dust. He carved out for himself a career that is superior to all his old tormentors and one that just might make him a serious candidate for the National Baseball Hall of Fame some day.

Williams batted .297 over those 16 seasons, with a .381 on-base average and .477 slugging percentage. He won a batting title, four Gold Gloves for fielding, a Silver Slugger for hitting and was named to five All-Star teams.

Even more impressive are Williams’ post-season numbers. He ranks second in most major offensive categories – games (121), at-bats (465), runs (83), hits (128), total bases (223), singles (77) and total bases (202). In each case, Williams is second to long-time teammate Derek Jeter. Williams is also the runner-up in post-season home runs (22) to Manny Ramirez and walks (77) to Chipper Jones.

Williams is the only player in post-season history to hit home runs from both sides of the plate in one game, and he did it twice, in the 1995 American League Division Series against the Mariners and in the 1996 AL Division Series against the Rangers. Also in ‘96, he was the Most Valuable Player of the AL Championship Series victory over the Orioles.

The World Series victory over the Braves that followed remained a key moment in Williams’ career. Years later, he noted, “The World Series gives you confidence. Whenever a team goes through adversity, every player who has been to the World Series knows that this is the beauty of the game, how great it is. We don’t just play for the money or the records. There’s a reason to be the best. We realized it [in ‘96], not just because we won it, but the way we won it. We were down by two games, and we went down to Atlanta and swept the Braves. That taught us a lot about the game, what it means.”

Williams was distraught in the 1997 post-season when he was 2-for-17 in the ALDS loss to the Indians, a setback that seemed to galvanize the Yankees as they came back to win three straight World Series. They were memorable seasons for Williams, who won his batting title in 1998 with a .339 average to go with 26 home runs and 97 RBI and had an even better year in ‘99, batting .342 with 25 home runs and 115 RBI. His best overall season was in 2000, batting .307 with 30 home runs and 121 RBI.

Not even Yankees scout Fred Ferreira, with the recommendation of Roberto Rivera, who signed Williams to a contract Sept. 13, 1985, his 17th birthday, could have foreseen such a career, particularly in the heady atmosphere of center field at the Stadium that had been patrolled by Earle Combs, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Bobby Murcer and Mickey Rivers.

Bernabe Figueroa Williams was born in San Juan in 1968 and grew up in Vega Alta, P.R., where he played high school ball with future two-time AL MVP Juan Gonzalez. Williams’ parents also instilled in him a love for music, which proved a sustaining force at times when his baseball career became over-challenging.

One of the oddities of Williams’ time with the Yankees was that he was frequently the only player in the batting order who did not have a special song played for him when he came to bat, a practice that became prominent at ballparks in the ‘90s. Williams’ interest in music was so intense that he considered listening to a “theme song” before a plate appearance a distraction.

During Williams’ rise through the minors, the Yankees weren’t quite sure how to use him. Despite being fleet afoot, Williams lacked the larcenous behavior to be an effective base stealer, which made him less than an attractive leadoff hitter despite an excellent on-base percentage. His legs helped him run down any fly ball, but his throwing arm was never particularly strong or accurate

But in the early ‘90s, the Yankees were in no position to be over picky about prospects. When injuries cut into the playing time of outfielders Roberto Kelly and Danny Tartabull, Williams was summoned to the majors and the slow apprenticeship began. Brought along slowly by managers Stump Merrill and Buck Showalter, Williams came into his own in 1993 and took control of center field at Yankee Stadium, the most sacred patch of ground in the majors, for the next 10 years.

His breakthrough year was 1995 when Williams batted .307 with 18 home runs and 82 RBI and followed that by hitting .429 with two home runs and five RBI in 21 at-bats in the grueling, five-game ALDS loss to the Mariners, an exciting series that helped “sell” the new concept of an expanded round of playoffs.

Joe Torre arrived the next season, and while some of Williams’ eccentricities had the new manager shaking his head on occasion was won over by his almost childlike enthusiasm.

“I don’t think there is anything about Bernie that could surprise me – take that as a plus or a minus,” Torre told MLB.com last year. “That’s just his personality, just him, basically. He’s very different in that he is not your typical baseball player. That’s probably why he was a little more sensitive than other players.”

But with that sensitivity also came with Williams a sense of loyalty. Despite being wooed by the Red Sox and the Diamondbacks when he was eligible for free agency after the 1998 season, Williams contacted Yankees general manager Brian Cashman and the sides worked out a seven-year contract for $87 million that kept Bernie in pinstripes.

Williams had been hopeful he could have played for the Yankees in 2007, but there was no longer a role for him. So the soft-spoken center fielder, now 46, enjoys a satisfying retirement and continues to write music. His 2003 CD, “The Journey Within,” drew praise from the likes of McCartney, Bruce Springsteen and Paul Simon.

“Don’t let your job define who you are,” Williams once said. “Your relationships will define who you are. No matter what you do in life, you are going to be in a position to make an impact on somebody’s life. In my experience with the Yankees, these are a few of the thing that I have learned. You’ve got to have a plan of action, you have to stay focused on the things you can control, and don’t get discouraged or distracted by the things you cannot control.”

2-for-2 for No. 2 in final All-Star Game

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MINNEAPOLIS — It did not take Derek Jeter very long to get involved in the 2014 All-Star Game. On the very first play of the game, Jeter made a diving stop of a hard grounder toward the middle by Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen, but the reigning National League Most Valuable Player beat the throw to first base for a single.

McCutchen never stopped running that inning. He moved up to second base on a wild pitch during the at-bat of Yasiel Puig, who struck out, and stole third base as Troy Tulowitzki struck out. Mac never made it home, however, as Paul Goldschmidt grounded out to third.

The Twins, who have done a magnificent job as host of the All-Star Game, came up with a nice touch by having a tape of the late Yankees public address voice Bob Sheppard announce Jeter as he stepped to the plate as the first American League hitter in the bottom of the first inning. The tape was apparently from the 2008 All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium.

The Target Field crowd was generous with its applause and gave Jeter a standing ovation. Starting pitcher Adam Wainwright left his glove and the ball on the rubber and stepped back off the mound in joining his NL teammates in applauding Jeter, who removed his helmet, waved to the crowd and pointed to both dugouts. He motioned to Wainwright to start pitching, but the Cardinals ace remained behind the mound for probably a full minute before taking position.

As play resumed, fans treated the Captain to a “Der-ek Jee-ter” chant familiar to the roll call the bleacher creatures at the Stadium salute him with every night, another cool touch. Jeet got things started for the AL with one of his patented line drives to right field that went into the corner as Jeter legged out a double. The crowd loved it.

And how about that to those who thought Jeter should not have been the AL’s leadoff hitter? One swing, and he was in scoring position. Not bad, eh?

Angels outfielder Mike Trout got Jeter home with the AL’s second extra-base hit of the inning, a triple off the right field wall that the Dodgers’ Yasieal Puig played poorly. After Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano struck out, Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera got the AL’s third extra-base hit of the inning, a home run to left field. The score was 3-0, and the Americans had not had a single yet. Perhaps Wainwright should have stayed off the mound.

The National League, which was shut out at Citi Field last year, closed to 3-2 in the second on RBI doubles by Phillies second baseman Chase Utley and Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy to end a 15-inning scoreless streak dating to 2012 at Kansas City.

Jeter was a leadoff hitter again in the third inning against Reds righthander Alfredo Simon and got the AL’s first single on another hit to right field. A wild pitch advanced Jeter into scoring position this time, but he was stranded.

Before the start of the fourth inning, AL manager John Farrell of the Red Sox sent White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez onto the field to replace Jeter, who was showered with another round of long applause while the PA system played Frank Sinatra’s version of “New York, New York” that is heard at the end of every Yankees home game.

Jeter again waved to the crowd, pointed to the NL dugout and then shook the hands of every one of his teammates in the AL dugout and urged on by the crowd came onto the field once more to acknowledge their cheers. He left All-Star competition with a .481 career average in 27 at-bats and seemed in place for maybe another game Most Valuable Player Award to match the one he received in 2000 at Atlanta’s Turner Field.

One stumbling block to that was the NL tying the score in the fourth on another RBI double by Lucroy, this time off White Sox lefthander Chris Sale. That opened the door for Trout, who with his second extra-base hit of the game, a double in the fifth, gave the AL the lead and put him in position to be the MVP.

But if the fans here had their choice, I’m sure they would vote for Jeter.

Jeet hopes latest leg issue is minor

I saw something Thursday that I never saw before nor ever expected to see – Derek Jeter not running hard to first base. Jeter is on my list of players I have covered over the years who always – always – gave it their all running down the line, right up there with Pete Rose, Dave Winfield and Mookie Wilson.

So when I saw Jeet jogging the final third of the way to first base in the sixth inning I figured something was up. When Yankees manager Joe Girardi sent Brett Gardner up as a pinch hitter for Jeter in the eighth, my suspicions were confirmed. After the game, Suzyn Waldman of WCBS Radio and Meredith Marakovits of the YES Network were informed that Jeter would be unavailable for an on-field, postgame interview.

The warm and fuzzy feeling brought on by Jeter’s return to the Bronx Thursday turned gloomy when it was learned that in his first game back with the Yankees in 2013 Jeter felt tightness in his right quadriceps. Actually, the muscle tightened up slightly in his previous at-bat when he also tried to beat out a ground ball.

The Captain did that all game. He was not at shortstop but as the designated hitter as Girardi decided to ease Jeter back into the mix. DJ beat out an infield single in his first at-bat to the absolute delight of the Yankee Stadium crowd of 40,381 and grounded out his other three times up. On the last one, the quad wouldn’t allow him to go full throttle, which is as rare a sight as there can be in the major leagues.

Of course, Jeter considered the situation minor and fully expects to be back in the lineup Friday night against the Twins.

“It’s not frustrating yet,” he said. “We’ll see what the tests say. I hope it’s not a big deal.”

We have been down the road with Jeter before on these matters. He played much of the 2012 postseason on a weak left ankle that eventually gave way and shattered to knock him out of the American League Championship Series against the Tigers. While on the rehabilitation trail, the ankle broke in another spot pushing his recovery back toward the All-Star break, which is next week.

Jeter is back in pinstripes earlier than planned although later than he wanted. He could have done without the at-bats in the minors but acknowledged, “I understand you have to play games, but I felt that I was ready.”

The original plan was for Jeter to come back to the Yankees and play Friday night after another game as a DH for Triple A Scranton. Jeter was surprised when he returned a call from general manager Brian Cashman telling him to come to New York for Thursday’s game.

Leg injuries to Gardner and Travis Hafner Wednesday night had left the Yankees short. Jeter reached his Manhattan apartment at around 2:30 a.m., got to sleep at around 4, woke up at 6:30 and could not get back to sleep so he decided to get up and go to the Stadium early.

“No disrespect to rehab assignments, but this is Yankee Stadium,” Jeter said. “There’s a huge difference. For me, it was almost like Opening Day. The fans gave me a nice ovation.”

No one in the Stadium could hear the tape of the late Bob Sheppard announcing Jeter as he strode to the plate in the first inning because of the crowd’s reaction. The plate appearance allowed Jeter to tie teammate Mariano Rivera for the most seasons played (19) with the Yankees.

“I thought about that first at-bat ever since I got hurt,” Jeter said, “and I knew I was going to swing at the first pitch.”

Which he did; he hit a topper down the third base line and beat it out for his first hit of the year. He showed no leg problems running to third on a single by Robinson Cano and had a nice trot to the plate on Vernon Wells’ scoring fly ball. On that other trot in the sixth, Jeet was credited with a run batted in as Luis Cruz scored from third base. It was a nice beginning for Jeter, who got his first hit, first run and first RBI out of the way all in the same game.

Perhaps it was just an illusion, but all the Yankees seemed to have more spring in their step with the Captain back. They overcame deficits of 3-0 and 4-1 to take an 8-4 decision and earn a split of the four-game set with the Royals, which is meaningful after having lost the first two games. Three straight two-out singles by Lyle Overbay, Zoilo Almonte and Eduardo Nunez produced four runs in the fifth as the Yankees took control of the game.

The winning decision went to Andy Petttitte (6-5), who passed Bob Gibson on the all-time list of pitching victories with 252. It was not vintage Pettitte, who made an error on a bunt play and had his outfielders working overtime running down long drives. The way the offense has struggled so much of the season, three-run deficits can seem enormous to the Yankees, but Pettitte and the bullpen held KC scoreless after the second inning and waited for the hitters to take their cue from Jeter.

Now it is a matter of waiting for the test results to determine the severity of Jeter’s condition. At 39, the healing process can have more delays, which Jeter understands if reluctantly.

“Age doesn’t creep into my mind when I’m playing,” he said. “Maybe in the morning. . .”

So we wait for Friday morning and hope Thursday wasn’t too good to be true.

Anniversary of a legendary voice

Sunday marks the 60th anniversary of the first game worked by public address announcer Bob Sheppard at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees will conclude the homestand with an 8 p.m. game against the Rangers on ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball.”

Back on April 17, 1951, the Yankees opened their season against the Red Sox. The game also marked the major-league debut of Mickey Mantle, who played right field and batted third in the order and had a single in four at-bats.

Sheppard, who died in 2010 at the age of 99, was the Stadium’s PA voice until late in the 2007 season before he was sidelined by illness. His voice is still heard at the Stadium whenever Derek Jeter steps to the plate. Sheppard recorded his announcement of Jeter and it continues to play before each of the Captain’s at-bats.

Bob worked 121 consecutive post-season games at the Stadium, including 62 games in the World Series, from 1951 to 2006. He also handled similar duties for the football Giants, who moved to Yankee Stadium from the Polo Grounds in 1956. Sheppard continued to do Giants games at their stadium in the New Jersey Meadowlands through 2005, a total of 50 seasons.

Here are the lineups Bob introduced for that ’51 opener, won by the Yankees, 5-0.

Boston Red Sox New York Yankees
Dom DiMaggio, CF Jackie Jensen, LF
Billy Goodman, RF Phil Rizzuto, SS
Ted Williams, LF Mickey Mantle, RF
Vern Stephens, 3B Joe DiMaggio, CF
Walt Dropo, 1B Yogi Berra, C
Bobby Doerr, 2B Johnny Mize, 1B
Lou Boudreau, SS Billy Johnson, 3B
Buddy Rosar, C Jerry Coleman, 2B
Billy Wright, P Vic Raschi, P

Sheppard family grateful

The family of the late Yankee Stadium public address announcer Bob Sheppard expressed their gratitude to the people, many of them Yankees fans, who mourned his passing last month.

“Our family would like to thank everyone for the outpouring of condolences and support,” the statement read. “We continue to be touched by the kind words and wonderful memories that so many people have shared with us.

“We are humbled that Bob holds a special place in the hearts of so many individuals – from fans of the New York Yankees and New York football Giants to former students at John Adams High School and St. John’s University. Your kindness has inspired us during this difficult time.”

Two guys named George

Fans of the Yankees and “Seinfeld” reruns may satisfy both pleasures this week as the TBS cable network will honor the memory of George Steinbrenner with classic episodes that featured the late principal owner from the series that had its initial nine-year run (1989-98) on NBC and is now seen in syndication.

The Boss did not portray himself in the show. An actor named Lee Bear was shot from the back usually seated at a big desk, and Steinbrenner’s voice was provided by head writer Larry David, who is now the star of his own “Curb Your Enthusiasm” sitcom on HBO.

One of the show’s lead characters, George Costanza, played by Jason Alexander, lands a job with the Yankees as assistant traveling secretary. “The Opposite,” the finale of the fifth season in which Costanza gets hired, will begin the tribute week, which will end with “The Muffin Tops,” the last episode that featured the Steinbrenner character in which he trades Costanza for new chicken concessions at Yankee Stadium.

The schedule follows. Just disregard for the time being that in real life series star Jerry Seinfeld is a Mets fan who is a season ticket holder at Citi Field.

Monday, July 19: 7 p.m., “The Opposite” – George convinces Steinbrenner to give him a job; 7:30 p.m., “The Secretary” – George finds out Steinbrenner’s secretary makes more than he does.

Tuesday, July 20: 7 p.m., “The Race” – George heads to Cuba to recruit baseball players for Steinbrenner; 7:30 p.m., “The Wink” – Steinbrenner lists all the people he has fired over the years.
 
Wednesday, July 21: 7 p.m., “The Hot Tub” – Steinbrenner convinces George that a hot tub is the perfect way to relieve stress; 7:30 p.m., “The Caddy” – George’s father (Jerry Stiller) confronts Steinbrenner about a traded player.

Thursday, July 22: 7 p.m., “The Calzone” – Steinbrenner gets the idea to put Yankees clothes in a pizza oven; 7:30 p.m., “The Nap” – George’s napping habits at work lead Steinbrenner to think he has ESP.

Friday, July 23: 7 p.m., “The Millennium” – George does everything he can to get fired, but Steinbrenner loves what he does; 7:30 p.m., “The Muffin Tops” – George’s relationship with the Yankees finally ends when Steinbrenner trades him.

The “Bombers Boomer Broadway Softball Classic,” featuring Boomer Esiason and Broadway celebrities, had been scheduled for Monday at Yankee Stadium but has been canceled due to the deaths last week of Steinbrenner and public address announcer Bob Sheppard. Information regarding a possible rescheduling of the event will be released at a later date.

Burned-up Burnett

Joe Girardi is an understanding man, a lot more understanding that I would be if I were managing the Yankees and A.J. Burnett pulled the deal on me that he pulled on Girardi Saturday before a sellout crowd at Yankee Stadium on an Old Timers’ Day devoted to the memory of George Steinbrenner and Bob Sheppard.

Forget for a minute how Boss George would have reacted to the news that one of his start pitchers averaging over $16 million a year in contract money punched himself out of the game before getting an out in the third inning. How about having to wait until the end of a brutal 10-5 loss to a Rays team on the heels of the Yankees in the American League East race to find out just what the heck happened?

Not only that. Girardi talked to the Fox broadcasters Kenny Albert and Tim McCarver during the game and said he would find out what happened to Burnett and send word back to them. The word that came later was that Burnett had fallen down the steps in the dugout, which turned out to be a lie.

This is not a politician’s blog, so I won’t say that Burnett misspoke. He lied. The tall tale he told was to the trainers so he could continue pitching even with lacerations on both of his hands. Girardi had his doubts, naturally, since he figured the only way someone could get cuts on their hands falling down steps would have been to dive down them.

Girardi still had a game to try to win. The Yankees were in a bad way for sure, but a 4-2 deficit in the third is not insurmountable. That the manager had to rely on the soft underbelly of his bullpen (Dustin Moseley, Chad Gaudin) is what took the game out of control, and that is Burnett’s fault. At least he pleaded guilty to that.

“I told Joe after the game that I was embarrassed and what really happened,” Burnett said. “I’ll apologize to all my teammates [Sunday].”

They deserve to hear that from Burnett, who finally admitted to Girardi after the game that his wounds were due to counter-punching the double doors leading to the clubhouse, which loosened some Plexiglas that sliced the fleshy portion of his palms just below the wrists. Never mind the suicide jokes. This is no laughing matter. Burnett did a stupid thing and then compounded it by trying to pitch after injuring his hands.

Yankees fans surely remember similar stupidity from Kevin Brown in September 2005 when he broke his pitching hand by venting his frustration in the same fashion, although he took on a brick wall. When will players realize that a wall or a door always wins that fight?

What Burnett did no matter how much his frustration may have seemed justified was to jeopardize the division chances of everyone in that clubhouse. That Girardi was not more upset than he let on was frankly a surprise to me.

Burnett is not some green kid but a 33-year-old veteran in his 12th big-league season. He should know better.

“It’s not something I want my players to do,” he said. “Mr. Steinbrenner called Paul O’Neill a warrior, and he hit more things than anybody.”

That almost sounds like justification. I was around for O’Neill’s entire time with the Yankees, and he never missed a game because of an injury related to his famous encounters with water coolers and light bulbs. Girardi said he does not expect Burnett to miss a start and that he’ll get an extra day because of Monday’s open date. That just means the Yankees got lucky. Burnett should know that, too, which is why an apology to his teammates is in order.

Reggie remembers old times

Yankees manager Joe Girardi said it was a strange Old Timers’ Day Saturday at Yankee Stadium, and I had to agree with him except for different reasons.

“Obviously, two great Yankees are missing, so it will feel different,” Girardi said.

When I think of Old Timers’ Day, George Steinbrenner and Bob Sheppard do not come to mind. I do not recall the Boss being a central figure on that day, apart from the 1978 stunner when Billy Martin was announced as the future Yankees manager for 1980 not long after he had been fired.

Other than that, it seemed to be one day he stepped back and let the players of a bygone era have another day in the sun. Sheppard used to do the same as the Old Timers’ introductions were done on the field, for many years by Mel Allen and Frank Messer and more recently John Sterling and Michael Kay, who handled the duty again Saturday with Bob Wolff and Keith Olbermann providing comment on the exhibition game.

The ceremony Saturday, however, incorporated both Yankees icons who died last week. The Steinbrenner family was not present because they were attending a private service for the patriarch back home in Tampa, Fla. The day had a touch of elegance with the introduction of Mary Sheppard, Bob’s widow, among the celebrities.

Also absent from the proceedings was Yogi Berra, who took a tumble down the front steps of his home in Montclair, N.J., and could not participate. He broke no bones but suffered a nasty gash on his nose and some other bruises. “He appreciates all the well wishes and hopes to be up and about very soon,” was the statement from the Berra family.

Reggie Jackson, another Hall of Famer, almost didn’t come, either, but thankfully, he changed his mind.

“I’d rather not be here today,” Reggie said. “I’d rather pass. People in the leadership of the club thought I should be here.”

Yankees president Randy Levine urged Reggie to attend, and Mr. October put the day in perspective. Jackson knew both men well. His relationship with Sheppard was always cordial.

“Bob Sheppard was John Wooden-like just as John Wooden was Bob Sheppard-like in that you not only felt better when they were around but they had a similar concern for their fellow man, their family and their God,” Jackson said. “Bob worked with me on my Hall of Fame acceptance speech. He also told me on the day I received my [Monument Park] plaque that I could not keep my speech under two minutes. We made a 25-cent bet. I did the speech in 1 minute, 48 seconds, and Bob paid me the quarter. He was that voice in the sky. If they did make a movie about God and needed someone to do his voice, it would have to be Bob Sheppard.

Reggie’s relationship with Steinbrenner was to say the least complicated. They feuded a great deal during Jackson’s five seasons with the Yankees but developed a bond over the past 15 years that was severed so suddenly last week.

Recalling those “Bronx Zoo” years when George and Billy and Reggie provided more soap operas than a year’s worth of daytime television, Graig Nettles recalled, “I said, ‘Every boy wants to run away to the circus, and every boy wants to play major league baseball. With the Yankees, you can do both.’ George didn’t like that at the time. Each one wanted to be the boss and get all the attention. The writers would go past us to talk to George and Billy, but Reggie would trip some of them so they’d talk to him. That kept the rest of us out of the headlines. George put together the kind of team that could handle the chaos. Some later teams couldn’t handle it.”

“It was pretty tough when I heard about it,” Reggie said of Steinbrenner’s death. “I had just talked to him on his birthday [July 4]. It was a wonderful conversation. He was always positive. I knew his health wasn’t the same and the strength wasn’t there, but there was good conversation. So when I heard the news I just got caught off guard. I just got quiet for a couple of days.”

I tried to track Reggie down the day of the All-Star Game. I knew he was around somewhere. Frankly, he usually draws attention to himself at these events, but he was nowhere to be found.

“At the All-Star Game, I was supposed to be in the red carpet parade and on the field for some interviews,” he said. “I sat and watched the game for a few innings with [Angels owner] Arte Moreno and then with the commissioner. I didn’t want to say anything then because I could not have held it together very well.”

Jackson had trouble keeping his composure Saturday as well. He swelled up several times in talking about the Boss.

“He meant so much to so many people,” Reggie said. “His drive and desire to win brought the penultimate to the organization, the city of New York and the game of baseball. All his efforts were focused on winning regardless of the cost. Players see the difference in being a Yankee. Coming to New York, I had the career and success I did because of all the great players around me.

“How else could a .260 hitter [.263 actually] with more than 2,500 strikeouts [2,597] do some of the things I did. It was because of the way this ballclub was put together by Mr. Steinbrenner. We may have sprayed the ball around the fairway a lot, but we were putting it in the cup. If he said it once he said it a hundred times that letting me go was the biggest mistake he made. There are players who are tied with owners, and I am proud to be tied to him.”

Go, Buckeyes!

Nick Swisher must think he is still campaigning for the All-Star Game. Suffice it to say he is not resting on his first-half laurels now that the 2010 All-Star Game is history.

Swish was all over Friday night’s 5-4 victory over the Rays at Yankee Stadium in some ways good and in some ways not. At the end, however, he put a bright face on a game that began with somber tones and ended with pie-in-the-face exhilaration.

As a bow to the memory of Bob Sheppard, the only public address announcements were of the starting lineups and nothing else for the remainder of the game. That meant the noise would have to come from elsewhere, preferably to the sellout crowd of 47,524 here to honor Sheppard and George Steinbrenner from Yankees bats.

But it was pretty quiet out there for a while. Tampa Bay starter James Shields beat the Yankees May 20 to improve his record to 5-1. He was 2-8 with a 6.87 ERA since then but continued to give the Yankees trouble allowing only one run through five innings. Swisher knocked in the run with sharp single past Rays first baseman Carlos Pena in the third.

Tampa Bay nickeled and dimed its way to three runs off CC Sabathia, who had runners on base in six of his seven innings. An error by Swisher, who misplayed a fly ball in the sixth, proved inconsequential. Sabathia was never better than in the seventh after the Yankees had tied the score the previous inning on two-out, solo home runs by Robinson Cano and Jorge Posada.

After B.J. Upton reached first on an infield hit, Carl Crawford singled to right. Swisher air-mailed his throw to third up the line missing the cutoff man along the way, and the Rays had runners at second and third with none out. The Yankees decided to walk Evan Longoria intentionally and take their chances with a force at each base. CC struck out Pena.

Upton’s speed allowed him to score on a grounder to third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who wisely threw to first for the second out. Had he tried for Upton at the plate, A-Rod would have been late and lost the sure out. That would be it for the Rays as Kelly Stobbach grounded out.

One inning later, Swisher was in the middle of things again with a leadoff home run to tie the score. In the ninth, the Yankees got the potential winning run to second with one out. The moment seemed set up for Derek Jeter to be the hero, the same Jeter who represented the Yankees in a pre-game ceremony with a succinct speech about the qualities of both Steinbrenner and Sheppard. Jeter had a good at-bat against a tough reliever, Dan Wheeler, but he struck out.

Of course, you know who was up next. Swisher, naturally. The Rays turned to righthander Lance Cormier, who tried one too many sliders against Swisher, who singled off the third one to send home Curtis Granderson for the winner. It was somehow appropriate that Swisher was the hero, even though his time with the Yankees has been after the Boss’ direct involvement.

As manager Joe Girardi pointed out, “There were two things George Steinbrenner loved more than anything – his Yankees and his Buckeyes.”

So it was that Ohio-born and Ohio State University-educated Nick Swisher put the finishing touch on an important victory. On nights like this, the value of the game can seem diminished because attention appears to be focused on other things.

That was never the way George Steinbrenner saw it. He would have emphasized the final score. It means that Tampa Bay cannot leave town in first place in the American League East. We are past the All-Star Game and well out of the first half. The standings will now be studied closely every day. The Yankees won the sort of game Steinbrenner truly appreciated.

 

Tasteful tribute

I gave credit to the Red Sox for their tribute to George Steinbrenner and Bob Sheppard Thursday night at Fenway Park, and the Boston club deserves it. But no club quite handles moments such as these as the Yankees. Friday night was no different as the Yankees paid tribute to the deceased icons movingly and tastefully in a pre-game ceremony at Yankee Stadium.

A five-minute video of Steinbrenner’s lengthy and largely successful career as the franchise’s principal owner was shown on the Mitsubishi screen. After which, the crowd stood in preparation for the playing of taps as the West Point Color Guard walked onto the field.

Mariano Rivera then came forward with two long-stemmed roses and placed them on the plate. After the playing of taps by Staff Sergeant Mikki Skinner, a bugler with the West Point Band, a tape of Sheppard was heard directing attention to the microphone behind the plate and the appearance of Derek Jeter. The captain gave a brief, poignant address about the legacy of the two larger than life figures.

“We gather here tonight to honor two men who were both shining stars in the Yankee universe. Both men, Mr. George Steinbrenner and Mr. Bob Sheppard, cared deeply about their responsibilities to this organization and to our fans, and for that, will forever be remembered in baseball history and in our hearts. 
 
“Simply put, Mr. Steinbrenner and Mr. Sheppard both left this organization in a much better place than when they first arrived. They’ve set the example for all employees of the New York Yankees to strive to follow. 
 
“So now I ask everyone to join us in a moment of silence.”

Jeter’s role as team spokesman has been firmly established at times like these. Think of his eloquence the day of the last regular-season game at the old Stadium in September 2008. He has a sense of the moment that is fitting for such occasions.

After Jeter’s speech, United States Army Sergeant First Class Mary Kay Messenger delivered a rousing rendition of the Star Spangled Banner that the patriotic Boss would have applauded.

Paul Olden, Sheppard’s successor, read the starting lineups of the Rays and the Yankees, then told the crowd that in Sheppard’s honor there would be no more announcements during the game. A camera shot of the empty chair in the PA announcer’s booth was displayed on the screen.

The bleacher creatures got into the spirit of the evening and refrained from shouting out the roll call of the Yankees in the field that has become a first-inning ritual the past decade and a half or so. The lack of noise actually allowed fans the opportunity to speak among one another between pitches, which Sheppard surely would have enjoyed.