AP Photo/Frank Franklin II
Retired New York Yankees players applaud as former team public address announcer Bob Sheppard (shown on video monitor) is remembered during Old-Timers’ Day ceremonies at Yankee Stadium on Saturday.
Having seen the passing of legendary New York Yankee figures George Steinbrenner and Bob Sheppard in the last 10 days, Paul Olden has had a chance to size up his own mortality.
“There’ll be two distinctly different obituaries when that time comes,” the 56-year-old said. “I’ve come to terms with that.”
In New York, Olden will be known as the one who replaced the legendary Sheppard as the Yankee Stadium public address announcer. Sheppard’s passing on July 11 at the age of 99 came a year and a half after he had already resigned to failing health and gave up the microphone to Olden.
In Los Angeles, Olden’s legacy won’t be forgotten, either. Aside from a run as the radio play-by-play on the Rams and UCLA football and basketball, he was the radio stringer who, on Mother’s Day 1978, asked Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda the question: “What’s your opinion of Kingman’s performance?”
Lasorda’s profane-laced answer can still be heard reverberating around the Dodger Stadium clubhouse after Dave Kingman’s three home runs gave the Chicago Cubs a 10-7, 15-inning victory.
(In 2004, SI.com created a list of the top 10 list of the most embarrassing TV/Radio interview moments, and the Olden-Lasorda moment was No. 3, behind Joe Namath drunken interview with Suzy Kolber on ESPN in 2003, and Jim Rome’s ESPN2 interview with Jim “If you call me Chris to my face one more time” Everett in 1994. Except, like many, SI.com had the date wrong, citing a June 4, 1976 date when Kingman, then with the Mets, also had three homers and eight RBI against the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium.)
Olden had been taking television productions classes while writing and taking pictures for the school paper at L.A. Valley College, trying to explore new avenues for his career, when the Yankees came calling on him to replace Sheppard two years seasons ago – he compares himself to the Chevy Chase character on the NBC sit-com “Community.”
Olden’s career had included a long run of doing the public address announcing on the NFL’s Super Bowl, so his voice was recognizable in that capacity.
Since pulling up his L.A. stakes and settling in New York, Olden has been apart of another Yankees World Series championship and become the voice associated with the new Yankee Stadium.
We caught up with Olden prior to the Yankees-Angels series that ends this afternoon for an update on how life was treating him these days:
Q: Has it been a pretty emotional week for and the city of New York the last week?
A: Very emotional, very wild but very satisfying with the tributes we’ve seen. It’s just been wonderful. And my role in the proceedings hasn’t been that indepth, but with the little I’ve had to do, there’s been a good reaction to it.
With Mr. Steinbrenner’s passing coming just days after Bob’s, that was a big one-two punch. I had a relationship with Bob on the phone over the last year. I’d call him every couple of weeks, not necessarily to talk about public address things, but topics on life in general, families. Here’s a man who would have been 100 this October and a couple of people told me he was really looking forward to making it to 100.
Q: Did Bob ever hope he was going to return to the PA position?
A: I think he realized it wasn’t going to happen last year, so he didn’t get his hopes up. He never got a chance to see this public address announcer’s suite in the new Yankee Stadium. His wife, Mary, on Oldtimers’ Day last Saturday, was recognized on the field and she came up to our booth and said, ‘He’d love to have worked here.’ They’ve named the press restaurant after him here.
Q: How did listening to Bob Sheppard shape your own delivery of the lineups and announcements? He seemed very precise and nimble but hardly calling attention to himself.
A: I’m just glad management doesn’t want a screamer or a carnival barker for their PA person. For anyone growing up in L.A., I was raised on John Ramsey’s style – a great voice that just cut through everything, very straight forward, with no theatrics about a player’s name, like a Michael Buffer extension of a name. The only one in the Yankees’ lineup that lends itself to that kind of introduction is Robinson Cano, who’s name is already so lyrical. “Second baseman, No. 24, R-r-r-robinson Cano.” That’s one I can play with and it’s within the template that’s acceptable as a Yankees public address announcer.
The first thing I will say before a game is ‘Good evening ladies and gentlemen and welcome to Yankee Stadium,’ and then try to billboard the name ‘Yankee Stadium,’ because to me, coming here to a new stadium, it’s a special place, so you pause when you say the name and the crowd always gives a nice reaction. But those are really the only two things that you might do different. Otherwise we’re on the same plane in terms of the desire not to be a showman or anything like that.
Q: Does the Yankees PA job pay enough to sustain as a full-time job?
A: The Yankees take very good care of me and in exchange, I do a lot of other things – spring training in Tampa, which is great since I worked there seven years (with the Devil Rays) and I know my way around there, fantasy camps, public appearances with players at a school. And I’ve been doing a magazine show on ‘Yankees on Demand’ for the local cable system that allows me to do a segment with my photography that I continue to shoot during a game, then we pick eight to 10 of them and discuss the photo, along with the game video from that moment.
Q: Do you miss the play-by-play jobs you’ve had and think you’ll ever gravitate toward that again?
A: Not really. I’m happy with what I’m doing, and it seems the less I tried to get jobs the more opportunities would come my way. After spending so much time in my 20s and 30s trying to make contacts, work with agents, make auditions tapes and interviews, I think of how Bob Carpenter has got a job with the Washington Nationals at age 53 – usually if you get past 50 you won’t get a major-league job for some reason. I’m thankful someone was interested in hiring me. I tried for the Dodgers’ (open play-by-play job) before Charley Steiner got it, I tried for jobs in Oakland and Cincinnati and Pittsburgh and San Diego, but I really wasn’t on anyone’s ‘hot’ list. So if something comes along like this, where you can make a nice living and you don’t have to travel and I feel appreciated and respected, this is the perfect job for me. I’m not going anywhere anytime soon.
I found lately that I really started to enjoy writing – game stories on football or basketball or women’s soccer, writing them for the website and the paper (at Valley College). Now on occasion they’ll give me a script with bullet points and trust me to write the material that I read (as the PA). Instead of editing it, they allow me to ‘sweeten’ the script. That underscores they trust my judgment not to do anything stupid. That’s appreciated.
Hopefully I can put in half the career that Bob did in his 57 years as the PA guy. I don’t think I’ll last as long as he did, but then, he was working until he was 97. That’s an amazing achievement anywhere.