An almost eerie quiet came over Yankee Stadium Friday night, before the New York Yankees hosted the Tampa Bay Devil Rays to kick off the second half of the baseball season for both teams.
The fans were here to watch a ball game, but they also knew they were attending memorial: for George Steinbrenner, their Boss, the legendary Yankee owner who died on July 13, and Bob Sheppard, the team’s public address announcer for 56 years, whose mellifluous baritone was known labeled “The Voice of God.” Sheppard died on July 11.
The pre-game tribute to Steinbrenner had none of the bluster or theatrics that made the Boss more cultural icon than simple sports owner. Rather, it reflected his twilight years, understated and subdued. A video tribute, which included Yankees past and present lauding Steinbrenner, gave way to a two-minute or so standing ovation. Mariano Rivera placed flowers on home plate, and current Yankee captain Derek Jeter addressed the crowd, sharing kind words for his Boss.
Call it quiet, but effective. “I was emotional, man,” says Greg Deane, 31, a generator salesmen from Ringwood, New Jersey on hand for the game. “I was sad. He was the champ. I almost welled up, and I never even met the man.”
The Yankees added a nice touch for Sheppard: not just a moment of silence, but a whole game. To honor Sheppard, no public address announcements were made throughout the night. Players were not introduced with the usual “Now batting, number 20″ intonation. A fitting gesture: no one spoke any finer than Sheppard.
Fans looking for lighter Steinbrenner moments also got a gift today. TBS announced that, next week, it would air 10 Seinfeld re-runs featuring Larry David’s cartoonish, hilarious impression of Steinbrenner. Despite his tough-guy posturing, King George loved to laugh at himself. This could be the best Boss tribute of all.