November 16, 2008
Great voices make
memorable sporting experiences
When growing during times that seemed less "complicated" than today, young men my age often idolized their parents (if we were lucky enough to have two great parents like I did and still do) a great historical figure, an entertainer whose star is on Hollywood Boulevard or a professional athlete whose annual salary never exceeded that of the President of the United States.
During the last 45 years I have, at one point or another, admired great people from all of the aforementioned categories. But for the last 38 years, three voices have played sweet melodies inside my mind. One was that of the late NFL Films narrator John Facenda, about whom I wrote in this space four years ago. The others are two of my biggest heroes - and two of the best stadium public address announcers of all time.
They are the late Sherm Feller, who worked for the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park from 1967 to 1992; and 98-year-old Bob Sheppard, who has worked for the New York Yankees since 1951 and the New York Giants since 1956. These are the men who prepared and inspired me to become a part-time public address announcer more than 26 years ago. Each embodies what Sheppard once called the three "c"s of public address: "clear, concise, and correct." Let's take a closer look at these ordinary men with the extraordinary voices.
My respect for both gentlemen is so profound that it's difficult to decide with whom I should begin. But because I heard Sherm Feller's voice first, I will start with him. Sherm was born on July 29, 1918, in Brockton, Mass. He spent most of his career as a music composer and radio personality in the Boston area. Ironically, Sherm started announcing for the Red Sox in 1967, the year of the "Impossible Dream" that saw Boston win the American League Pennant for the first time since 1946.
I first heard Sherm in person on Friday night May 28, 1971, when the Oakland A's faced the Red Sox in front of a then-rare sellout crowd at Fenway. Just moments after organist John Kiley finished his pre-game prelude, Sherm's voice began echoing all over the ballpark with these words: "Good Evening, Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls. Here are the starting lineups for tonight's game between the Oakland Athletics and the Boston Red Sox."
Over the next 11 years, I returned to Fenway about 40 times. My first visit of 1982 came on the warm, sultry Friday afternoon of April 16, during the second semester of my freshman year at Boston University. A friend and I decided to purchase center field bleacher seats and soak up some sun. Naturally, we sat right next to one of the center field speakers, right next to Sherm's voice (which was so powerful that I almost spilled my diet soda and Fenway Franks before I had a chance to finish them).
Less than three months later, on Saturday June 26, 1982, I was covering American Legion Baseball for the Observer-Patriot, the weekly newspaper then published in my hometown of Putnam, Conn. That morning, I arrived early for Putnam Post 13's season-opening doubleheader. After I chatted with coach Tom Auclair for a few minutes, he turned and pointed at the microphone/speaker apparatus behind home plate. He said, "We need an announcer. Can you help us and cover the game?"
I said, "Sure." At first, I wasn't so "sure" about the whole thing. Then I thought, "If I'm going to do this, I am going to do it Sherm Feller's way." (For example, "Number 26.......Wade Boggs........Third Base.......Boggs.") Luckily, when talking into a microphone, I found I could make my voice sound like Sherm's. I worked Putnam's home games for the next three summers (1982, 1983, and 1984). Sherm continued to work for the Red Sox through the 1992 season. He died on January 27, 1994 at the age of 75.
I didn't announce another baseball game until Saturday April, 26, 2008, when the Prospect Bosox (my son Jimmy's 13-and-under COYBL travel team) made their debut at Jerry Layne Field. Throughout the season, I was able to combine Sherm's old school approach, with the 21st century necessity of playing music between innings (yes, that included "Sweet Caroline" by Neil Diamond in the middle of the 6th inning of a seven-inning game, and "Dirty Water" by the Standells after each Bosox home victory).
Bob Sheppard: Bob was born on October 12, 1910, in the Richmond Hills section of Queens, N.Y. He was a speech teacher in New York City's school system and at St. John's University before joining the Yankees as their public address announcer in 1951. Five years later, during their first season in Yankee Stadium, Bob added the NFL championship-bound New York Football Giants to his resume.
Throughout his career, pundits and players alike have affectionately referred to Bob as the "Voice of God." He certainly sounded that way to me when I first heard him in person on Sunday, Nov. 18, 1973, when the New York Giants (exiled from Yankee Stadium and three seasons away from moving into Giants Stadium) defeated the St. Louis Cardinals 24-13 at the Yale Bowl in New Haven, Conn. I again heard Bob in 1974 at the Yale Bowl and 15 years later at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., while I was covering the 1989 Army-Navy game for Navy Times.
In August 2002, after leaving Marion Catholic to take my current teaching position at Tri-Rivers, I was thrilled to say "yes" when then-MCHS Athletic Director Doug Etgen asked me to take over as the football public address announcer. I knew I couldn't make my voice sound like Bob Sheppard's, but decided to closely follow his style during my three seasons with the Irish ("Damico's pass....complete to Richardson......Green.....and White.....on the tackle....15-yard gain on the play.....First and ten Irish......at their 48.").
I took a break from announcing in 2005, but returned in 2006 when Jimmy began playing and his sister Sarah started cheerleading for River Valley Youth Football. During the last three years, I modified the Sheppard format somewhat to include first and last names, along with the down, distance, and yard line.
As the holiday season approaches, I thank God for so many things, including a good set of vocal cords, and parents who taught me the many different ways to love sports. And I thank Sherm Feller and Bob Sheppard touching my life and the lives of millions of Boston and New York sports fans. If ever there were a Mount Rushmore for stadium public address announcers, Sherm's and Bob's likenesses would be my first two choices to go up - along with their voices.
Jim Longo teaches social studies at Tri-Rivers Career Center and geography at the Ohio State University Marion.