I sit down to write today still stunned at the tragic death yesterday of my friend and mentor Bill Shannon. I have learned to define “higher education” as what has occurred during the time I have been honored to spend with him over the past twelve years. For anyone who has ever asked me a baseball scoring question – say a prayer of thanks in honor of the man who took the time to impart his knowledge to me.
It is extremely fitting that Bill Shannon’s funeral will take place on All Saints Day. If baseball is a “religion”, and the stadium in the Bronx is known as a “cathedral”, then Mr. Shannon’s service to the game is truly deserving of Sainthood.
I made my way into the pressboxes of Shea and Yankee Stadiums by 1998 and had the honor of meeting and speaking with Mr. Foley on numerous occasions. But my budding relationship with Bill Shannon became life changing. Howie Karpin had begun scoring games about that time as the first “non-newspaper guy”, as well as Jordan Sprechman. But Bill lamented to me that “Red and I aren’t getting any younger,” and began to cultivate “process” with the baseball passion that burns as bright in me now as it did then. Although my path in life has taken many different directions, baseball official scoring is something I have taken seriously and done religiously now for more than 12 years. It is a vocation, not a job. Bill had a mantra with far less hyperbole – “They pay us to do this work, they expect it done correctly.”
In 2000, I arrived at the Shea Stadium pressbox one day to find a press release announcing the Queens Kings minor league baseball team. They were to begin playing games at St. John’s University in June, and I contacted them about being their official scorer. I was told that I got the job because it afforded my reference checker a private phone conversation with the legendary Bill Shannon. After the intended purpose of the call was quickly dispensed with, the real conversation about baseball scoring took them the better part of an hour.
The “adventures” of New York-Penn League baseball were invaluable to learning the ropes while still covering major league games. My time as the Official Scorer of the Queens Kings/Brooklyn Cyclones lasted nine years, until my MLB status required me to step aside. My son Alex has just completed his second full season making the tough calls in Coney Island, and I think it’s safe to say he’s the first “second-generation” graduate of the Bill Shannon School of Official Scoring.
By the way, on August 20, 2001 – the Official Scorer of the Cyclones was Bill Shannon. He volunteered to fill in for me while I was out of town. That night Bill was seated next to Keith Olbermann in the open-to-the-field pressbox forty feet above home plate. While Keith was chatting away, Bill calmly interrupted him:
you might want to move to your right a little.”
Before another word could be spoken, a foul ball screamed past where Keith had just been leaning, shattering the glass wall behind. Bill had picked up the trajectory of the ball instantly, and still deduced there was enough time to be polite yet brisk in saving Keith from a really bad headache. Of course, Bill never moved a muscle. At least that’s how it was told to me. And Bill never let me forget that I asked him to fill in on “John Franco Appreciation Night”. But that’s another story…
It would take me weeks to tell every Bill Shannon story I know. Considering I’ve been telling them for over a decade already, I’m fairly sure that I’ll never STOP telling them, and after a few weeks I’ll go back to including my imitation of him in the narrative. I will limit myself to one more story now:
Despite “…home of the Brave…” arrival status at the ballpark, Bill’s departure time was an entirely different matter. Over the years I have taken advantage of the opportunity to go to class with the baseball professor well into the wee hours of the morning. Bill took special attention to discussing baseball nuance with me during those conversations, and little did I know that I was the “guinea pig” for a scoring book he was writing. One of the proudest moments of my life was to be asked to proofread the book that I have always referred to as “The Book of Shannon”.
One of the tenants of the The Book of Shannon is that “most males learn everything they know about baseball before the age of twelve.” I can happily say that thanks to Bill I learned most of mine in my 30′s. I have been extremely blessed to spend so much time with the man – even though all of the fillings in my back teeth have fallen out because of the damn tootsie rolls he has given me before every Yankees or Mets game in recent years. I once told him that it was my favorite candy as a kid, and knowing that I eat absolutely no sugar…he started bringing them to games and throwing two my way right around first pitch every single night.
I guess it’s time for me to start bringing the tootsie rolls.