"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

What Becomes a Legend Most?

There isn’t that much in today’s papers on Bill Shannon, the New York Press Box Legend who died yesterday at the age of 69 in a house fire. Disappointing, sure, but not a surprise–it is the eve of the World Serious, after all.

Still, there is plenty on-line, including pieces by Howie Karpin, Roger Angell, Keith Olbermann, Joel Sherman, Wallace Matthews, Pete Abraham, Joe McDonald, and most notably, Marty Noble. Noble writes:

The AP, which employed Shannon on a part-time basis for years, reported that a neighbor had placed a ladder up to the second floor to reach him, but the neighbor later said Shannon was unable to break the window and disappeared into thick smoke. Shannon had an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan for years, but had moved back to live with his mother after she developed problems about five years ago.

For all he did professionally — and there was much — he become a tad anonymous and borderline invisible in recent years when his primary responsibilities had included official scoring and his tireless work with the New York Sports Hall of Fame. If he were recognized at all, it was while working when a television camera focused on him in the press box at Citi Field or Yankee Stadium after he made a scoring decision the announcers thought to be wrong. But Shannon knew the scoring rules as well as Billy Martin, Tony La Russa, Joe Torre or any umpire knew the rulebook.

Shannon took pride in the reputation that he helped create — that New York had “tough” official scorers.

“He was a hard scorer, but hard is fair,” said Jack O’Connell, the New York-based secretary-treasurer of the BBWAA. “No homers here.”

Those who disagreed with Shannon’s decision to charge a fielder with an error often heard these words from OS Shannon: “This is the big leagues, sir. That play is supposed to be made.” He was objective to the Nth degree, but he did allow his absolute disdain for the sacrifice-fly rule to show through. Shannon was certain hitters didn’t deserve “free outs” for sacrifice flies and made his opposition apparent by his tone when he properly credited one.

Here are a few more thoughts on Shannon…

Ed Alstrom:

I thought he was a great guy. He was always cordial to me in the booth. My one lasting story of him is not much, but here it is: when I was asked to play ‘Goodnight Sweetheart’ at the end of the last home game in YS2, he was the only one that knew the song and the history of Layton playing it there (not surprising, I guess). I remember him singing it to me outside the stadium.

Sweeny Murti:

We should all hope that we are as good at our jobs and as respected for the jobs we do as Bill Shannon was.

I’ve covered games in nearly every ballpark around the league and in many of them reporters turn around and stare at each other after a bad call by the official scorer. “How is that a hit?” we usually say with disdain. I can tell you that never happened in Yankee Stadium when Bill Shannon was scoring, not by us and not by any of the out-of-town reporters either. Bill took his job as seriously as anyone I’ve ever known. That’s probably what made him so good at it.

Bill’s delivery of a pitching line was as unique as Bob Sheppard’s introduction of a batter. He was the voice of the press box in the same way that Sheppard was the voice of Yankee Stadium. If you cover enough games, Bill’s style of delivery is ingrained in your memory. It begins to feel as if Bill’s way is the only way to read a pitching line:

“The line on CC Sabathia…7 innings pitched. 5 hits. 2 runs. Both earned. 1 walk. 8 strikeouts. 1 home run.”

Then a pause, followed by a repeat, this time read at light speed as one long run-on sentence until a final pause before the last item.

“Sabathia, 7 innings5hits2runsbothearned1walk8strikeouts…and 1…home run.”

Unique is an overused word. It describes Bill Shannon perfectly.

Jay Jaffe:

I can’t say I knew Bill Shannon personally, but I’m greatly saddened to hear of his loss nonetheless, and I offer my condolences to his family and friends. In my first season with access to press credentials, he was a ubiquitous, indelible presence at every press box visit I made to the two New York ballparks, and it was eminently clear he was revered by all of the regulars. I’m saddened to know that I won’t have the chance to get to know him or to hear his booming voice running down another pitcher’s line for the day, but just having experienced first-hand his disdain for the sacrifice fly, I feel like I’m part of a unique fraternity.

Will Weiss:

Anyone who covered a Yankees or Mets game has a Bill Shannon story, and learned something from him. For me, the memory of Bill isn’t as tangible, and I can’t say I knew him well enough to call him a friend. However, I knew that if I was covering a game and Bill was the scorer, it had a different feel to it. There’d be humor, just by the way he’d voice the calls over the microphone in press row; there’d be a big-game feel, even in a mid-July tussle with little on the line. There’d be a sense that the game would be scored correctly. Bill was meticulous in reviewing replays to make sure he made the right decision, within the rules, and didn’t favor one team over another. There was no preferential treatment in the way he scored a baseball game.

Bill had a way of making his presence felt in the press box. In a city with perennial heavyweights in the Presence category, that’s not such an easy thing to do. His presence, above all else, will be missed.

One comment

1 Chyll Will   ~  Oct 27, 2010 10:47 am

So that was the voice I always heard in the background during radio broadcasts. The unacknowledged, yet very present. Those who know me know I feel this tragedy to the Nth degree. I say a prayer for him and his entire family, may he rest in peace.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver