Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Baseball Manager of Life Took Bill Shannon Out Too Early

I can't believe that, here I am again, writing a post because I've lost yet another baseball friend.

First, it was Ernie Harwell. Then came the news that Bob Sheppard passed away. Vic Ziegel and Maury Allen passed in the recent weeks and months.

Those hurt but this one hits home and my heart a little more.

My good friend in baseball and my mentor of Official Scoring, Bill Shannon, died earlier today when he was trapped in a fire at his mother's house in New Jersey.

Bill was caring for his 93-year old mother but he cared for so many with his personality, his pleasant demeanor, his willingess to help others, his sports knowledge, particularly baseball and his overall "good-naturedness" that touched many of us who were privileged to be in his presence.

I am an official scorer today because of Bill Shannon.

Throughout the history of N.Y. baseball, official scorers were spawned from the print media. Newspaper reporters made up the roster of official scorers, but a reporter, whose background was from the broadcast/radio media, never worked as an "O-S" until 1998.

That radio reporter was me and it happened because Bill Shannon believed in me.

I had been covering Yankees and Mets games since 1980 and got to know Bill from being at the ballpark. 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.

After awhile, I had this crazy idea that I could be an O-S.

Bill was on the same page.

Bill Shannon went "out on a limb" in the late 1990's and convinced Phyllis Merhige, who was in charge of the official scorers throughout MLB, to give me a chance to be a scorer.

In September of 1998, I got my first opportunity to be an Official Scorer for the Yankees/Blue Jays game and the rest is history.

Bill was an amazing wealth of baseball knowledge. He was the one you went to if you needed a question answered on a scoring decision or a rule interpretation.

Bill was considered by many to be the "best Official Scorer in the country".

Even if Bill wasn't working the game, he was always being queried on scoring decisions.

He was the authority and deservedly so. Bill helped set the standard for the New York scorers and has left some "big shoes" to fill.

Bill wrote the book on official scoring with his nifty little tome called, "Official Scoring in the Big Leagues".

To those who didn't get to know him on an intimate basis, he was an imposing figure. Someone you wouldn't want to mess with but he was really a kind soul with a big heart.

He never seeked publicity nor recognition and he didn't back down from the discussions/confrontations that could surface while scoring a game.

Most of the working media will always remember his unique way of reading the pitching lines.

The lines are read and then repeated. Bill, who had a booming, radio-type voice, would give a conventional reading of the line the first time around. With the second reading, Bill would speed up his cadence and then end with a big finish. The final stat would be read with an emphasis on the number, a pause and then the statistical category it fell under.

I.E. Bill would say at the end, "and TWO...(pause)...strikeouts"

They say "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery". Bill's style was respectfully imitated many times at the local ballparks.

Bill was one of the great story tellers and I leaned on him at times to help me with some facts that I needed while writing some of the baseball books that I've done.

I could be here all day writing about all the good things that was Bill Shannon, but I'm being selfish and rightfully so because I'm hurting right now.

Losing my friend and my mentor is very difficult and there won't be any real closure to this episode until we start playing ball again next season.

Alot of nights when Bill was scheduled to "score" a game, he would get to the ballpark just before the first pitch was thrown, as if he wanted to make a grand entrance, but that wasn't his style. He was usually stuck on mass transit, or tied up with something else.

Sometimes, he wouldn't make it on time and either myself or Jordan Sprechman (Bill's close friend and a fellow scorer) would cover for him and call the first pitch. We didn't mind, we totally understood and we all help each other out as best we can.

It's hard to believe that I'll be looking for him to show up late but he won't be coming this time, however, his spirit and his legacy will always live in the press boxes at Yankee Stadium and CitiField.

Somehow, I'll be in touch my friend. I can still use that "security blanket" you provided with your loyalty and your support.



Scott Orgera said...

Well written, buddy. There will never be another like Mr. Shannon. Saying he will be missed is an understatement.

Thanks for sharing this.

Larry Fleisher said...

Well written, Howie. I only knew him for five years and his attention to detail and tracking each pitch always struck me as a great way to stay involved in closely watching the game.