(Originally Published Eight Years Ago on 10/27/10)
Back in May, outside Gate 4 at Yankee Stadium, where members of the media enter and leave, Bill Shannon was observing a sign situated at Babe Ruth Plaza. The longtime official scorer employed by Major League Baseball who sits up in the press box would question, “Look carefully. What is wrong with the spelling here…?”
Joyce Kilmer Park was spelled incorrectly, “Klimer” on a destination map that fans hardly notice. But Bill Shannon noticed things like this, the name of a famous American journalist and poet spelled incorrectly at Yankee Stadium. It was one of the many great memories that this writer had with Shannon who tragically passed away Tuesday morning.
A three-alarm fire at his small home in West Caldwell, NJ became news to all of us who were blessed to know Shannon as a colleague and friend. The 69-year old journalist, historian, and master when it came to the game of baseball could not get rescued from a second floor bathroom window that he tried to shatter.
Shannon had a 93-year old mother, who he tended to daily. She was able to get out of the house safely and was taken to a nearby hospital. Her only son, Bill would leave to attend to his duties as an official scorer for Mets and Yankee games at Citi Field and Yankee Stadium, and also assisted the Associated Press with clubhouse reporting.
So we, those in the media that were his friends and colleagues are feeling the loss. Hours after word came about the tragic news, there were the many tributes and a feeling of loss as to how the press box won’t be the same when we converge again at the ballparks in April.
Howie Karpin of the Bronx, a radio reporter, became a successful official scorer and will miss his mentor Bill Shannon. It was always the concept of an official scorer to come from the ranks of print media and not from radio and television reporters.
“I had been covering Mets and Yankees games since 1980 and got to know Bill from being at the ballpark,” says Karpin who writes a daily baseball blog, ‘3Balls-2 Strikes.’ “I was always fascinated by the official scorer’s role and like anyone who sits in the press box I would add my two cents to any of the scoring decisions that were being made.”
It was the beginning of what Karpin describes as he and Bill Shannon “being on the same page.” The crazy idea of becoming a scorer came to fruition. “Bill Shannon went on the limb in the late 1990’s and convinced Phyllis Merhige, who was in charge of the official scorers through out Major League Baseball to give me a chance to be a scorer.”
“The rest is history,” as Karpin says. Since that first game at the old Yankee Stadium in September of 1998, Bill Shannon was always there as a mentor and friend. And it was that way with yours truly, to all members of the media who made a habit of greeting Bill when he arrived for the first pitch and took his perch in the official scorer’s seat that determines a hit or an error.
There was the detailed explanations about the rule book, and stories about the game he covered so well when writing for the Associated Press and other publications. When we had a question, Bill Shannon was the one who had the answer.
But you had to be prepared for an extensive explanation. You asked one question and there was more to come. Enough to write a book, some he wrote so well including “The Ballparks” about the history of Major League ballparks. Versatile also in other sports, he assisted with statistics at New York Jets football home games, at his alma mater, Columbia University, and editing “The Official Encyclopedia of Tennis” for the United States Tennis Association.
Recall when this reporter was a rookie in that same year of 1980 with Howie Karpin. One of the first to say hello in the press rooms at Yankee and Shea Stadiums was Bill Shannon. “Welcome,” he would say with that voice of authority and sincerity.
And he would always be the first to say hello when passing through a crowded press box with a Pepsi cup in his hand. He knew the rules when it came to a potential postponement of a game, and was good for conversation to pass time until they took the tarp off and resumed play. Always receptive to explain a rule after a controversial play and loved being around his extended family of friends who cover the game of baseball from April until late October.
In essence, Shannon was as an official scorer for Major League Baseball and an ambassador to all of us in the press box.
That unique style of reading the pitching line that could be imitated but never duplicated. He gave the pitching line numbers and the unique pause, “and…twooo strikeouts” at the end of the line. You heard that the first time and wanted to hear it again for the other starting pitcher, and those who came out of the pen.
Karpin will always have his mentor looking down on him, and surly the Yankees and Mets will pay tribute to Shannon who was truly the dean of official scorers in New York.
There would always be the conversation. “Bill, you will die at the ballpark,” because he missed very few games during the course of a New York baseball season. We never expected to hear that it would end the way it did on Tuesday at his home in New Jersey.
And something says on next opening day in the Bronx, when the pitching lines are read and when the final lines are read, someone will try and duplicate what Shannon always did.
It will be a deserving tribute as we try and comprehend why Bill Shannon is no longer scoring games in the press box. And one thing is certain. He left the scoring seat in good hands with guys like Karpin and a few others.
God Bless You always my friend!
e-mail Rich Mancuso: [email protected]