Jeter, Bob Sheppard, and Funeral Ethics

Bob Sheppard, the “Voice of God” who announced batters in games at Yankee Stadium from Joe DiMaggio to Mark Teixeira, died this month at the age of 99. Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter announced that henceforth he would be introduced by a tape recording of Sheppard’s distinctively cultured tones, and the tributes from former players and current team members were generous and loving.

But when Sheppard was finally laid to rest over the All Star Game break, no Yankee player, past or present, took the time to attend his funeral. The team itself sent appropriate representation, and General Manager Brian Cashman spoke. Still, some journalists, bloggers and New York sportswriters found fault with the complete absence of the Yankee players, considering Sheppard’s iconic stature and their stated admiration of the man. The Daily News’ Bill Madden called it a blatant lack of class.

Perhaps. I’d call it coldness and insincerity. There are many reasons one can use to avoid going to funerals: “I had a prior commitment”…”I didn’t know about it until it was too late”…”I get too emotional at funerals.” In this case, there were others: very few of the players, if any, really knew Sheppard, who was just a voice to them. He didn’t travel with the team, or socialize with them. If the players were not intimately acquainted with Sheppard, they were completely unconnected to his family—and in truth, it is the family, not the deceased, that appreciates the gesture and tribute shown by one attending a loved one’s funeral. The attendance of Jeter, or Whitey Ford, or any other Yankee would have shown respect and honor to Sheppard and what he meant to the New York Yankees, and the family would certainly have taken notice.

Attending would have been a kind and generous thing to do. No Yankee, however, was obligated to attend. The only ethical problem here is insincerity. If any players really respected Sheppard as much as they said they did, if they really wanted to honor him in a personal and sincere way, one would think that some of them would have made a point of going to the funeral. We all know this, don’t we?  On most occasions, when we really think it is important to attend a funeral, wedding or other ceremony, we find a way to go. We cancel other plans; we make the effort. It may not be the least we can do, but it is likely to be our last opportunity to do anything to show the family we care.

Derek Jeter, who has been the focus of most of the criticism because he made the most effusive tribute to Sheppard and because he is the team’s symbolic leader, told the press that he hadn’t known about Sheppard’s funeral.  Ugh. This was a terrible first crack at an excuse. When someone who is truly important to you dies, yours second question (after “How did it happen?”) is “When is the funeral?” You don’t get invitations, Derek: it’s up to you to find out when a funeral is. If you don’t, it’s a fair assumption that you weren’t very interested in going anyway.

Jeter’s second attempt at an excuse was closer to the mark. “I don’t necessarily think that you have to go to a funeral to honor someone,” Jeter said. That is certainly true, and Jeter’s request to have the Sheppard recording announce his at bats will do more to keep Sheppard’s memory alive than going to his funeral. Nevertheless, honoring someone and making the effort to say a personal farewell by attending a funeral in person are different things entirely. No single Yankee player, Jeter included, should be criticized for not seeing Sheppard off to that Big Broadcast Booth in the Sky. They didn’t have to go, and they didn’t have to care enough about Sheppard personally to want to go.  It would have just been a nice and decent gesture if some of them had.

Yankee great Yogi Berra (who also failed to attend Sheppard’s funeral) had the right idea when he said (reputedly),

“Always go to other people’s funerals; otherwise, they won’t go to yours.”

4 thoughts on “Jeter, Bob Sheppard, and Funeral Ethics

  1. Pingback: Jeter, Bob Sheppard, and Funeral Ethics « Ethics Alarms « Ethics Find

  2. Jack,
    Except, as you said, funerals do nothing to show respect to the dead, only the living related. Thus, while the Yankee players may have had the highest respect for Bob Shepherd they neither knew (nor particularly respected) his family. Furthermore, while this may not have applied here, there are a number of people (myself included) who loathe funeral rites in general and make a point of avoiding them at all costs and I can’t see how it could even be considered bad taste to miss one.

    Frankly, this whole thing seems like just another excuse for sports writers and other talking deads to make an issue out of nothing during a slow sports news cycle.


    • And it’s Yankee bashing, which is fun but often unfair. Some writers actually used it to salute George Steinbrenner, arguing that he would have insisted on a player contingent because he insisted on “class.” Class is one word I will never associate with Steinbrenner.

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